God said “The day you eat it, you shall surely die.” Words that God spoke to frightened Adam and Eve on the saddest day of human history: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
Tonight you receive a sobering reminder that someday, perhaps even someday soon, you will die. For a father, like myself, it’s a strange and heart wrenching thing to smear ashes on my wife, and girl, and little boy. Not only is it a reminder to them, but it’s a reminder to me that someday, God will lie their little bodies inside a casket – and lower them into the ground.
In my home we sing “Ring around the rosy, pocket full of poesy, ashes, ashes, we all fall down.” We hold hands, sing, and all come crashing to the ground at the same time. And the words are true. If the Lord does not first come bursting through these dark winter clouds, with the trumpet blast, and all his angels. We will go back to the dust and ashes. Death will come after us. Bones get weaker, breath becomes shorter. Hearts, and kidneys grow tired. Life is squeezed out of us until we breathe our last and return to the ground. Ash to ash, dust to dust.
Ash Wednesday is a day not to beat around the bush. We are dying sinners in a dying world. And it’s true for everyone here. For little babies, children, for the elderly, and for those who in the prime of their life. Death and the curse of sin has its mark on all of us.
We are all marked to show our mourning, our shame, and our death. We mark ourselves with ashes to show our repentance. Like Job who repented in dust and ashes. Like the prophet Jeremiah. Like Daniel in the Old Testament.
Let us tonight be perfectly honest and confess our sins. We all stand guilty before a holy God. All have fallen short of the glory of God. Sin fractures our families, compromises our marriages, hurts our children, and threatens our church. Eventually sin has it’s way with us because eventually we die from it. What we need is a Savior.
A savior who becomes a man of dust – like you. A Savior who leaves his throne in heaven to come down to the dust of earth. A Savior who cares for his family, blesses his children, lays down his life for his bride the church. A Savior to do what you have failed to do. A Savior to also bear your sin.
A Savior enthroned in glory at Golgotha – seated at the throne of the holy cross. Dying breath giving life for sinners doomed to die. A Savior who cries out in victory “It is finished,” and drinks the cup of the Father’s wrath down to the hellish dregs. A Savior to be laid in a dusty tomb to empty death of all its power.
A Savior raised up from the dust of death to defeat Satan forever. A Savior, who in the words of Ezekiel raises up a valley of dry bones – raises up sinews, flesh, and bones restored. New skin placed upon you as the very breath of life breathed into resurrected lungs. Breathe of life which says to you “Your sins are forgiven.
God became a man of dust for you. Even though the grave closes over your head and your body lies in dust and ashes death won’t be able to hold you. Your sins are answered for. Death has no claim on you. You belong to Christ.
Your forehead is not just smeared with ashes. You are marked with the holy cross. The Savior’s cross who exchanges your death for his perfect life.Your life is different now. You are baptized. He has given you his name. You are His.
Go and sin no more. If you have a wife – delight in her piety. She is holy and a gift to you. Parents, your children are on loan to you from God. They don’t ultimately belong to you but to Him. What more could we pray or ask for them that they be Christians and believe in Him. This is enough to make us more than glad. If you are single rejoice in those whom God has placed in your life to love as he loves. Children love your parents.
Tonight Jesus gives the very Bread of Life and the cup of salvation. Eat and drink and you shall surely live. He gives his resurrected body. He gives himself. He forgives you and He loves you. In Him are families reconciled, marriages restored, and children found perfectly pleasing to their parents.
Ashes, ashes we all fall down. Like children singing a nursery rhyme you too can laugh again and play. Not even death can end our gladness. Jesus did not stay in the grave but walked out into the morning light – and so shall you - along with all God’s children. In the name of Jesus. Amen.