On Ash Wednesday we joined with the other United Methodist Church in town for two joint services. The noon service was at North UMC and the 7:00pm service was at South UMC. It is a little bit complicated, logistically, having three pastors officiate. We decided that Pastor Mark would preach and Pastor Margaret and I would administer the ashes.
During his sermon Pastor Mark spoke of how difficult it was the first time he placed the ashes on the foreheads of his own children saying the words, "Remember thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return." When it came time to invite people forward to receive the ashes at the 7:00pm service at South, Margaret and I stood on opposite sides of the sanctuary. Several of our youth had arrived without my noticing and before I knew it I was smudging the ashes on the foreheads of kids who are in my confirmation class, seniors who are getting ready to go away to college, young people who have their whole life ahead of time. I found a lump rising in my throat. While they are not my children, I have watched them grow and mature over the past three years. "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return."
At the same time, we have been preparing for the death of a long time member of the congregation. Roger has had Parkinson's disease for many years. Three weeks ago he took a fall in the middle of the night and ended up in the hospital. While it was expected he would have to go to rehab, it was thought he would recover. Soon after his fall, though, he developed pneumonia. On Monday he decided to stop taking the antibiotics and go on hospice care. His family has been keeping vigil at his bedside and we have been stopping by to offer prayer, and hopefully some comfort, several times a day. "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return."
Whether we are at the beginning of our lives or at the end, we are dust. As one person said to me this week, "We are all dying. Some of us just don't know it." The hope we hold to on Ash Wednesdays is that we are not alone. Death may come this week, next month or forty years from now, but no matter ~ God is with us.
May God grant Roger peace, my youth protection and many chances to fulfill their dreams, and all of us the comfort that though we are dust, we are infinitely precious dust in the eyes of God.