- Malcolm Guite
Receive this cross of ash upon your brow
Brought from the burning of Palm Sunday’s cross; The forests of the world are burning now
And you make late repentance for the loss.
But all the trees of God would clap their hands, The very stones themselves would shout and sing, If you could covenant to love these lands
And recognize in Christ their lord and king.
He sees the slow destruction of those trees,
He weeps to see the ancient places burn,
And still you make what purchases you please
And still to dust and ashes you return.
But Hope could rise from ashes even now Beginning with this sign upon your brow.
“...for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Gen. 3:19) NIV
From early on in the Bible, ash has been used as a symbol on the spiritual journey, and is mentioned especially in the scriptures of the Old Testament: “Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:6 NIV) When a person was grieving or in mourning, they would place ash on their foreheads and rip their clothing.
It is interesting that we wear the sign of hope and salvation, namely the cross, on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday. On the Lent journey, the cross serves as a sign of suffering, and it is on this journey of suffering that we join Jesus.
The theologian, Walter Brueggeman, helps us come to a richer understanding. Firstly, Ash Wednesday reminds me that I am only human. We sometimes forget that we were formed out of “dust”, from the nothingness; that we belong to the earth and that we, as humans, cannot create life, but that we are dependent on God for the breath of life. The very life inside of us is dependent on God’s life giving breath. All the voices that tempt us to power, success, control and prosperity, creates in us the mistaken impression that we are far more independent and self-reliant than we truly are.
In this dust filled existence, I am invited to awaken to my humanity. But I am also invited to awaken to the road of the cross with Jesus.
I am dust. And to dust I will return.
How often do you consider your mortality?
Lord, I ask for the grace to choose Your life.