By The Reverend Dr. Katie Snipes Lancaster on the evening of Ash Wednesday
O God, from the dust we have come, and to the dust we shall return. You know how we are formed: from the good, rich, thick, earthy soil, from the dirt, from the dust, from the earth. You remember, O God, that we are dust, and you fill us from everlasting to everlasting with love and with breath.
Today, let the memory of our dusty-ness connect us to you, for you formed us from earth, and breathe life into us. We are vulnerable, O God. We are dependent. We are precariously alive, fragile yet strong, frail or wrinkly or broken in places, yet filled with the very breath of life.
All in all, we belong to you, O God, for we are fully dust and fully breath, breath and dust, entirely reliant on your good gift of earth and air. Fill our lungs, O God. Let us breathe deep. Fill us with the breath of life today. For it is good to be filled with your breath, dust that we are.
It is good for us to be filled with your breath, those of us who sing, who speak, who run, who laugh. Even our sorrow, our grief, our lamentation requires your breath, O God, the labored breathing after a long deep cry.
O God, we were marked by the dust before we even set foot in this holy place today, before the dust and ash was spread in the shape of a cross on our forehead. We were marked by the dust from the beginning, from before the beginning. Today’s dust holds an echo of creation, the stardust of galaxies long past, the cycle of life and death and life and death and life that goes back beyond parent and grandparent and great-grandparent to ancestor beyond ancestor.
The smudge on our forehead that we bear today holds the ache of our lives, the shortcomings of our short days, the misgivings and regret that we bring to your throne of grace.
We hold today, especially, the mothers and fathers and friends who grieve at the threshold of a high school in Parkland Florida. Some, also marked with a sign of the cross, remembered in worship today that from the dust they have come and to the dust they shall return, and did not know that they would come so close to the dust today. We never know. And so we pray, today especially, for the 17 killed in Parkland Florida, for the human failure that leads to such preventable grief, and for the unimaginable days ahead.
Holy God, we pray for the Lenten Journey ahead of us—that our days might be marked with a purpose and a destination—that our path might lead us toward a resurrection life we cannot yet imagine. Offer us today, from everlasting to everlasting, a sign of your love and your breath: that you are the life within dying, that you are the breath within dust, that you are the light within the burning ache of our heart, that you are the one who will arise and make us new.