I never quite got the meaning of Ash Wednesday. Yes, the pieces of the service had some significance–dust is meant to be a sign of our humble state before God and a sign of penitence. But somehow I didn’t grasp the unified meaning of the service, until I read this lovely essay, which wove the disparate pieces together beautifully and exposed their biblical underpinnings. And it even tossed in a reference to Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” one of my favorite poems from the Romantic period.
Here’s an excerpt:
“So the rite is saying: Remember who you are, by your own choice, but remember also who you are by God’s choice. Remember, O Son of Adam, that you are not only a Son of Adam but that you are also a child of the Father through adoption. You are dust, yes, but you are redeemed dust, you are dust that God will reassemble. You may look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. After all, the God who created us from the dust of the earth can just as easily recreate us from the dust into which we have decayed.”
As we travel through the “bright sadness” of Lent, may God grant us the grace to remember that we are dust, and also that He has promised to make even our dust shine with the brightness of His resurrection glory.