A colleague, Elizabeth Dilley, shared the story of imposing ashes on the foreheads of children. As she made the sign of the cross on one little boy’s forehead, “From dust you came and to dust you shall return,” his mom bent over and whispered in his ear, “But not for a really long time, okay buddy?”
We have a hard time accepting our mortality. We run from it. We do everything we can to prevent it. We seek to guard and protect our children and ourselves from every danger.
We want to whisper into every ear of every child, “not for a really long time, okay buddy?”
And yet, this world is full of sin and grief and we have allowed anger and violence to be common place.
At a school this afternoon in Florida, seventeen people died when a young man opened fire upon students.
I was overcome with grief at the image of a mother, weeping, the sign of the cross on her forehead, clutching in her arms her teenage daughter.
“Not for a really long time, okay buddy?”
We are nothing but dust.
We are human.
We are sinful.
We cannot solve these problems on our own.
And yet the hope, the promise, the reason we gather on a night like this is to remember that out of the dust of the earth, God made beautiful things.
Where our human limitations and sin threaten to destroy us, God promises to be present and redeem and restore.
When we simply cannot find the way out of the muck and the mire of life, God shines a light.
When the dust of death and the grave loom so large over us, God shows the way through even the valley of the shadow of death to the hope of eternal life.
And God begs us to repent, to believe the gospel, and to allow the power of God to fill our hearts so that we can confront the impossible evils of this world.
We cannot do it alone.
But with God’s help, swords can be beaten into plowshares.
With God’s help, thoughts and prayers can be transformed into deeds and actions.
May it be so.