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The Blessing of Dust -- Psalm 103 (Ash Wednesday)

Every year as we enter the Season of Lent, we gather on Ash Wednesday, with its call to reflection and repentance – an invitation to a fresh start. We pray together, and we come forward and someone takes ashes, and draws them on our forehead in the shape of a cross, and says these words:

Remember from dust you have come, and to dust you will return.

Dust. “Remember dust.” I don’t think I’ve ever given dust much thought at all – until this year of re-envisioning everything we do. I get the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday – how ashes signify for us repentance – a turning from harmful and unhealthy ways – the end of those things that need to go, marked in the sign of the cross, with the hope and assurance of resurrection.

But why then say this?

Remember from dust you have come, and to dust you will return.

I had the sense that this blessing – this blessing of dust – was scriptural, but I couldn’t have told you where it comes from in the Bible. I thought it might be from a Psalm, and there is an echo there. But when I went to look, I found it first there in Genesis – in the very beginning – and then I kept going, and what I found is that the dust of us is all over Scripture.

Dust is there in the very beginning.

In the creation story in Genesis 1, God creates everything that is – and on the 3rd day – God parts the waters so that the dry ground appears. In the creation story in Genesis 2, it gets even more intimate. God makes the earth, and streams come up to water it, and God reaches down and takes the dust of the ground, and shapes the human, and breathes life into us.

When things go awry, God tells the humans that they will now live off the land, reminding them, “For dust you are, and to dust you will return.” (Gen. 2:7) The dust of us, forever connected to the dust of the earth. And to Abraham and Sarah and Hagar, God says, “I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted.” (Gen. 3:19) Our dust is everywhere, connected to everything.

As the story unfolds, as a people, we walk some dusty paths –