Today, we begin our journey of the Lent, having ashes placed on our foreheads with the words, “Remember, you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” And the psalm of today also says, God knows what we are made of, and God remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:14). Yes, we are dust, we came from dust, and we shall return to dust.
But, . . . NO. I am bold to say, NO. We are not just a dust, we are not just from dust, and we shall not just return to dust. We are not just a clay figure coming from dust and going back to dust. We are not just a clay doll walking into the river, being broken and scattered into the water.
Let me read a poem of Wendell Berry, who is poet, novelist, and farmer. And it’s one of his Sabbath poems.
As timely as a river
God’s timeless life passes
Into this world. It passes
Through bodies, giving life,
And past them, giving death.
The secret fish leaps up
Into the light and is
Again darkened. The sun
Comes from the dark, it lights
The always passing river,
Shines on the great-branched tree,
And goes. Longing and dark,
We are completely filled
With breath of love, in us
(Wendell Berry, This Day: Collected and New Sabbath Poems, p. 207)
“As timely as a river God’s timeless life passes into this world. It passes through bodies, giving life, and past them, giving death.” The poet is singing about the mystery of God’s life-giving love. And praises God, and His informing Love, giving its life to time, to space, to universe, and to his whole creation. God is the river of life, giving the breath of life to dust, and God is the river of light, giving light to dark. God’s life and love enter into the world. The incarnate Love, the incarnate Life, the incarnate Word, passes into the world, into the creation, and passes through us, the dust, giving life. As timely as a river, God’s life and love pass into Jesus Christ, His only Son, giving us life and light. And God’s love passes into Jesus Christ, giving us death. And also, giving us a new life, the eternal life. That is all about the Lent.
The poet says, “Longing and dark, we are completely filled with breath of love, in us forever incomplete.” Yes, God is complete. God’s love complete. But we are incomplete. In us forever incomplete, however, God’s love fills us completely with His breath of love. But we are still incomplete, not because His love is incomplete, but because we are the dust who need God’s timeless and unending love again and again and again, like breathing in and breathing out the breath of God’s love, which giving us eternal life. We are like a broken clay vessel, not complete to contain God’s love fully within us, and we are like fishes which cannot live out of water. Then, we should walk into the water, we should plunge into the river to breathe the breath of life.
God is the river of life. When we dive into the river and entrust ourselves to its flow, when we abide in him as the Son abides in the Father, we become filled with breath of life and breath of love. That is God’s grace, that is God’s life-giving and steadfast love and God’s timeless life revealed and given to us in Christ Jesus, and through the Holy Spirit. That is why God the Father sent His Only Son into us, and that is why the He sent His Spirit into us to dwell within and among us forever. Sometimes, we, like a secret fish leaping up into the light, into the air, enjoy our lives and give thanks to God, but sometimes, we down into the river, darkened in it.
However, in longing and dark, we, having light within us, and remembering who we are, and worshiping, praying, fasting, and loving and serving one another, we give up ourselves, our thoughts, minds, and souls to the flow of the Spirit. And we swim to the flow and leap up into the light again. But, down again, and darkened again. We believe, however, as timely as a river, God’s timeless life and steadfast love flowing from the river of God’s Spirit, that we do not know where it comes from or where it goes, but the always passing river will give a new life to us in longing and dark. And that is the hope, that is the faith, that, walking through the Lent, we hold.
Today, we travelers are about to begin our journey of the Lent. Having ashes, we will remember that we are dust, and we shall return to dust. And following his example of praying, fasting, and self-giving, we will walk the way of the Lord, Jesus Christ. In fasting, looking back the way that we have walked, we remember, we are all dust who hunger for God’s timeless life and love, and we remember, without God’s life-giving breath, we are all just a dust. In alms-giving, we remember, we are all dust who are given God’s life-giving breath, and we remember, God’s self-giving life and love revealed in Christ gives us a new life, and we remember, we are all called to practice and live out the holy life and holy love among the people, among neighbors. And, in praying, we remember, we are all dust who need deep and intimate communion with God. And we remember, we are God’s secret fishes living and swimming in the river of the Spirit, the river of life and love, submitting ourselves to the flow of God’s life and love, and listening to the Spirit who prays within us to God the Father for the sake of us.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we are holy dust transformed and transfigured through God’s timeless life, and unending love in Christ. Let us, “Remember, we are dust, and to dust we shall return.” Let us, “Remember, we are God’s love, and to His love we shall return.” Let us, “Remember, we are from God’s life, and to His life we shall return.” And let us, join the journey of the Christ today, and go and practice and live the Christ in our living and among our neighbors. Amen.