"Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return."
My favorite tv show is gunsmoke. In my opinion the best tv show in history. Matt Dillon plays a marshal in Dodge City – a place filled with crooks, gamblers, drinkers, and criminals. Every episode begins with Marshal Matt Dillon taking a walk on Boot Hill, a cemetary at the outskirts of town – contemplating all the men in the grave – put there six feet deep by bullets, sickness, revenge, or even by the arm of the law – sometimes by Matt Dillon's own gun.
The Marshal’s walk through the cemetery is a reminder that he and the people in town live in a fallen world. It’s a realistic view of small town life, because betrayals, tragedy, and death are present in every episode. The Andy Griffith show is funnier, but we all know Mayberry even for its time was a bit too rosy. Nobody really lives in Mayberry, but Dodge, now that’s a place in which we can relate – it’s a world in which we live. A fallen world, a wild west with betrayals, greed, lust, ambition, violence, and death. And yet it all leads to the cemetery – no one is spared from boot hill - each grave marked with a wooden cross sticking out of the dusty earth.
Tonight, on Ash Wednesday, we have a sobering reminder that we live in Dodge. That each day is one day closer to the grave – to Boot Hill. The Bible says that the soul who sins shall die. God said in the day that you disobey, the day in which you partake of that which I command you not to - you will surely die. The writing was on the wall, but we disobeyed God. We became outlaws, gunslingers, vigilantes, rebels.
We turned away from God. We turned away from his life-giving word, and befriended Satan and his lies. We sinned. The devil promised pleasure but he gave us hell instead. He promised life but he gave us death. Ever since we’ve limping off to boot hill, dragging our feet as we go to a dusty death.
Tonight you are marked with ashes, a sobering reminder of the physicality of death. Through sin death entered the world through one man, the first Adam, a man of the dust. By his disobedience all men fell. We were cast out of Eden to the wild west – a wilderness where the violence continues. We turn away from God. We become slaves to sin. We hurt ourselves. We hurt those we love. We betray. We are betrayed. We gossip. We hope the worst for others. Our thoughts are soiled with sin – our day dreams and fantasies are “X rated.” Our bodies are broken from hurt and decay. You citizen of Dodge, confess your sins, confess that you are not the Mayberry type.
So take a walk through boot hill. Look at the grave, and recall the ashes. But then remember there is another Marshal in town. He doesn’t rule with a gun or a horse. He rides into Jerusalem, humble and mounted on a donkey. Behold your marshal, your shepherd of love. He rides into Jerusalem and weeps over the carnage. He weeps over those who would betray him. Weeps over your sins and the damage they have caused. And yet he loves you.
He walks from Boot Hill to Mount Calvary. He brings justice not with a gun or with a badge but his holy precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death. This man of dust, a flesh and blood man, the second Adam has come. He who knew no sin became the sin that you are so that through him you might become the very righteousness of God. In Him, the lawless become upstanding members of the community. Crooks, gossips, gamblers, drinkers, and gunslingers are welcomed. Prodigals and rebels come home. Vigilantes find a place again at the family table to which they belong. Sinners become holy saints through his atoning death and sacrifice.
The old saying from the Marshal, is true, “Get out of dodge.” And some day you will be delivered from this valley of tears – delivered from the violence of sin. Like Christ you will yield up your spirit and fall asleep and lay down to rest on boot hill. A cross will adorn your grave.
But you won’t stay there long and neither did Christ. The tomb cracked, the earth shook, and He walked out. Winter always gives way to spring, death gives way to life, and your bones, your dust and ashes will rise up. You will enjoy a new body, a heavenly one, and for the first time in your life you will feel comfortable in your own skin – as the immaculate bride of Christ. You will walk upon streets paced with gold, with no need of a sun as the light of Christ illuminates the entire City of God.
Tonight we don’t mark our foreheads with ashes to have some sort of pity party. We mark ourselves with ashes in the shape of the holy cross. We do it to mock death, in way to mock our own sins which have already died in the wounds of Christ. We put crosses of ash on our heads to stare down death. Like Marshal Dillon, we hold our ground. And saddle up and journey to the empty tomb on Easter morning. In the name of Jesus. Amen.