BY REV. TIM NAPPE
REACHING THE UNREACHED IN WEST AFRICA
Way back on the first page or two of the Bible, in Genesis 2, we have a picture of God's personal attention to the creation of the first human being. God reached down into the soft, moist dirt and picked up a handful, which He used to carefully fashion a human being. Then God did something miraculous! In the way that only God can do, He breathed into the nostrils of this first human being, the breath of life!
And suddenly, this piece of clay became a living, breathing, human being. God's breath, His Spirit transformed this clod of dirt into a creature of flesh and bone, body and blood. Suddenly, this person could think, move, worship, respond, and do everything that we normally associate with life and health.
God named this first human being Adam. It is a name derived from the Hebrew word for dust or ground. It is what this person was made of, "Adamah." We have that same association when we talk about Human Beings. The Latin word, "humus" describes earth or dirt.
Those words remind us of our origins. We are created in the image of God, from the dust of the ground. It is only because of the breath of God that we are what we are. Without that breath of God, we are merely dust. And many times, that is the final admission spoken over us at the graveside when we commit a body back to the ground at the cemetery, "Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust."
Standing in the cold at the graveside of a loved one is a stark reminder of how short our earthly existence can be. Even the psalmist recognizes our inevitable return to the dust, "For he knows how we were made; he remembers that we are dust" (Psalm 103:14). "When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish" (Psalm 146:4).
Dust, ashes, dirt, down through the generations and across cultures, they have been used to dramatically symbolize our grief, sorrow, pain, and anguish. Dust and ashes remind us of our human frailty, they remind us of our human, earthly origins.
This week, Christians around the world will be recognizing Ash Wednesday. It is the beginning of the Christian 40-day journey of Lent. It is a time of self-examination, repentance, and meditation as we accompany Jesus toward the cross and the tomb. It is a time that we are acutely aware of our sin, our failings, and our weakness. It is because of our sin that Jesus suffered the pain, endured the crucifixion, and died the death that should have been ours.
And it is because of Jesus' suffering and death that we have hope for the future. His sacrifice is what provides us with forgiveness, healing, and the hope of resurrection to eternal life. We cannot attain any of those gifts by our own strength or effort. It is only through Jesus, our Lord and Savior, that we can come into the holy presence of God our Creator.
On Ash Wednesday, as individuals and as a church, we will bow our heads in prayer. We gather in congregations around the world to confess our sins and to acknowledge our guilt. We give thanks to God for providing us with a Savior and with a hope for the future.
And as a sign of our grief and repentance, we will receive the sign of the cross, formed by the ashes on our forehead. We will be reminded of who we are and who created us. We will remember who made us and who has redeemed us. And we will hear the words of scripture that accompany the imposition of ashes, "Remember that you are dust; and to dust, you shall return" (Genesis 3:19).
Thankfully, that is not the last word of on our lives. It is merely a prelude to the announcement of joy and victory that is coming on Easter morning at the end or our Lenten journey.
Back in Genesis 2, we heard the wonderful, life-giving word of God, breathing His life and Spirit into our earthly bodies. On Easter morning, God does it again! God breathes life and vitality back into us. Hope is restored. He raises us up from the dust of this life and gives us something to look forward to. Without His life and forgiveness, our future and our hope would lie in ashes. But because of Jesus, we can look forward to eternal life in the presence of our Creator.
May God be with you through your Lenten journey.