As we prepare for Ash Wednesday, let's look at a little piece of scripture that I think will pull this all together for us- we often hear it on Ash Wednesday (it’s one of the options) as we are blessed with ashes: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
Why do you think this snippet of scripture was chosen for this day, which marks the beginning of Lent? I always hear that it's a reminder of our mortality, which, I guess is always important- but, why on Ash Wednesday?
To clear it up a little more, let’s look at the context: it’s from Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament- it happens near the end of a speech by God to Adam and Eve after he’s found them hiding from Him in the garden. Remember, they're hiding from Him because they've gone against His instructions, and... well, just maybe they know they're in trouble.
Here’s the scripture with a little context: (Gen. 3:16-19)
To the woman he said,
‘I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children,
yet your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.’
17And to the man* he said,
‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,
and have eaten of the tree
about which I commanded you,
“You shall not eat of it”,
cursed is the ground because of you;
in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.’
I think it's pretty common for a parent to get angry when their kids do something stupid- but I think at the heart of that anger is usually frustration, born of dashed expectations. Parents have hopes and expectations for how the child they've created will behave in the world. They expect their children to be grateful for what they have been given, to know right from wrong and to act accordingly. They are angry because they are thinking "I know you can do better- I have been trying to raise you to do better."
And I think that's what God was saying to His little creations who, as the story goes, should have known how to act in the face of temptation and chose differently.
When a parent chews out their kids for doing something stupid, they demand change- they want their kids to turn it around, straighten up, and remember who(se) they are and that they've been taught- and for us, Catholic Christians, Lent is the time to do that. If we've gone astray during the year, failed to live up to God's expectations of us, now it's time to repent, and to return.
This Ash Wednesday, when I'm blessed with ashes and I am told "remember, thou art dust and to dust thou shall return" I'm probably going to hear "remember, I broughtest thou into this world and I can takest thou out of it!" and I'm going to try to do better. I want to make my Father proud.