Ash Wednesday

This devotional is written by Matt Coombs. Matt is one of the leaders at St Mary's and is married to Pip.

Genesis 3:14-19

14 So the Lord God said to the snake, 'Because you have done this,

'Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. 15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring[a] and hers; he will crush[b] your head, and you will strike his heel.'

16 To the woman he said,

'I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labour you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.'

17 To Adam he said, 'Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, "You must not eat from it,"

'Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.'


In the Christian calendar today is Ash Wednesday. At Ash Wednesday services ash crosses are placed on people's forehead to signify repentance, and they will often quote from Genesis saying: "for dust you are and to dust you will return.'

Let's talk about dust.

"...the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being." (Genesis 2:7)

God is creator. Everything else is creation. A creature.

In the Bible, there are different types of creature. There are Angelic beings; Seraphim and Cherubim etc. Isaiah has a vision of these creatures singing so loudly the temple shakes. That's powerful. There were also other non-human giant like figures in the Old Testament with great strength.

But God doesn't create us (humanity) like that, we're made of dust. We are created to be fragile, dependant, vulnerable, weak, contingent. This is nothing to do with the fall/evil. This is creation. Our culture celebrates independence.

We don't want to be labelled as needy or be a burden on others.

But the Christian understanding of humanity is based in its dependance upon God. Dependence is not an alien; subhuman, undignified condition, it's not something to be embarrassed by - it is part of the narrative of every human life.

Remember, the God of the universe, of total power and authority who is free to do whatever, choses to make himself into one of these pathetic bodies. And then when the God of the universe is hanging on a cross says he is thirsty, he can do nothing about it for himself. He entered into this sense of dependance. There is nothing we can go through that God has not entered into. He is still the second person of the trinity, his dignity and status are unchanged in his death. Dependence does not change this.

In a world that often expects us to be perfect and independent. Ash Wednesday reminds us to freely confess our imperfections. We can let down our pretences and be truly honest with God and each other about who we are. We all bear the mark of sin. But we can confess it, turn from it, and throw ourselves into the arms of our Saviour - another act of trust and dependance.

Ash Wednesday is not some dour, depressing holy day, the ash is in a cross shape because it symbolically anticipates Good Friday and Easter.

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