Gen. 2:7 the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
I have always wanted to preach with a GoPro on my head so that folks could see my “viewpoint” during a worship service. It is powerful to be able to stand before the people of God. I can see the person yawning, the young adult studying for their anatomy exam on the bulletin, the child sprawled out on the balcony pew, the recently divorced couple sitting in opposite corners, the recent follower scribbling furiously, the biblically informed participant fact checking me, the widow leaning forward for a promise of hope, the young man needing forgiveness, the cancer survivor covering her baldhead and the boyfriend who came to church in order to score some points with his girl.
It’s a privilege to see life from this vantage point.
To see the mess of our lives. To recognize that as much makeup, barre classes, JosABanks, or credit cards we amass deep below the surface things are still a mess.
This is why the church created Ash Wednesday. To prepare our hearts for the good news of Easter by reminding us that we are but dirt.
I remember the first Ash Wednesday service I ever went to…because I was the pastor leading the service. This service was radically different than any other service I had experienced. It was “heavy.” While I seek to often break levity and light into worship with bad jokes and promises of God’s eternal love, during this service it seemed appropriate to leave us wallowing in the mud.
And as people lined up for their markings, I found it challenging to proclaim: “You are but ashes, and to dirt you will return.” To leave them wallowing in this mess. To see the tears bubbling up in their eyes as the truth of that statement was smeared onto their forehead whether a BOA exec, single mom, or preschooler.
While the world quotes Stuart Smalley:
“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”
Lent wants to tell us a different story. It humbles us; it begins a season of darkness. It chips away at the facade to reveal the dirt. It prepares us and puts a hunger on our heart for something that will satisfy.
In fact all the good leaders of the Bible spent 40 days in this darkness remind themselves of the mess their lives had become and hungering for Something more. Noah was stuck in a boat full of smelly animals (Gen 7:13); Moses fasted atop a mountain (34:28); Caleb went into foreign territory feeling out of place (Num 13); Jonah spent the time preaching to a bunch of people he hated (Jonah 3:4); and lastly Jesus began his ministry in the wilderness for 40 days. All of these times were seasons of difficulty and separation from God.
This is the point of Lent: to be broken down to our core so that on Easter the cracks that have been exposed are prepared to be filled with the promise that “He is Risen and gone ahead of us into Galilee.”
Suddenly we become:
dirt with a purpose
Thanks be to God.