Ashes and Dust
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Since our commemoration of the Transfiguration of Jesus, you have heard a lot about our Lord’s passage from the mount of the Transfiguration to the mountain of the cross. That will not change throughout these forty days, for we will continue to focus on our Lord Jesus Christ and His relentless journey. But this evening we pause to consider our own trek to the cross.
Though we do not participate in the imposition of ashes here, think for a moment about the words which pastors speak as they make the sign of the cross in ashes on the foreheads of those who come forward: Remember, thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return. Look around you at your brothers and sisters in Christ. Look at yourself. When you get home, look at your house, your clothes, your possessions. Understand this: everything that you love, everyone that you love, everything that is a treasure to you is going to end up in ashes and dust. Your prize quilt collection. Your mp3 player. Your computer. Even your spouse and children. Ashes and dust. That's why Jesus says not to store up these treasures on earth—because that's how they end up. They are great while they’ve lasted. But in the end, just like us, they turn to dust and ashes.
When you were baptized, you were marked with the sign of the holy cross on your forehead and upon your heart, to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified. Your baptism is God's own promise to you that because His Son was covered in your sins, you have a treasure that does not turn to ashes. What is that treasure? Forgiveness of your sins and eternal life! That water and word that was put on you is what rescues you from being ashes. Of course, unless our Lord returns first, you'll get put in the ground the same as everyone else who has gone before; but your baptism is the Lord's promise that because Christ has conquered sin and death and risen again, you will be raised up on the Last Day.
The reason that Lent focuses so much on the suffering and death of Jesus is so that we poor sinners learn what our true treasure is. We preach the cross—and Christ on that cross—for on the cross Jesus suffered and died to rescue us from all those things that we love so much. It’s not that they aren't our gifts to enjoy, but we always want to love them more than the Lord and His Word. The reason that fasting and alms giving and prayer are the traditional works of Lent is not because we need to be taught that our money and our toys are necessarily bad, but because we need to learn that our money and our toys are not the true treasure. They are not the most important things our heavenly Father has for us. Rather, the treasure in heaven, the treasure that does not turn to ashes, is Christ Himself and His salvation. Jesus can't ever turn to ashes. Ashes are the reminder of death. But when Christ died for our sins, He did not turn to dust; instead He rose the third day and threw down sin, death, the devil and hell. He threw down those enemies that make us into ashes! He threw down their power to keep us forever as piles of dust! By His rising from the dead, Christ shows that He is a treasure that doesn't get stolen or eaten by moths or that rusts away or rots into dust and ashes. He is our everlasting and ever living Savior who brings us with Him by His Word to the realms of glory and eternal life!
You don’t have to do so, but if you so desire, it's okay to give something up for Lent. But do it for the right reason. Do it because you're reminding yourself that such a thing is not true treasure, that it won't last forever. But more than that, the real way to celebrate Lent is to have more Jesus. Take advantage of the extra opportunities to hear the Word. Take advantage of the opportunities to confess your sins and receive Holy Absolution. Take advantage of the opportunities you are given to receive the body and blood of Christ. Through these gifts our Lord Jesus Christ piles up for you riches that you cannot imagine!
Though you do not bear a cross of ashes upon your forehead today, you still bear on your forehead and heart the cross of Christ, put upon you at the font of Holy Baptism, which rescues you from a future of ashes and gives you the promise of a future of life in Christ. By His cross your sins are forgiven. By His cross you store up for yourself the true treasure in heaven that will not fade, rust, or turn to ashes and dust. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.