Blow the horn in Zion; give a shout on my holy mountain.” Joel 2:1a
“Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your hearts…Tear your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord your God, for God is merciful and compassionate, very patient, full of faithful love, and ready to forgive.” Joel 2:12, 13
“Blow the horn in Zion; demand a fast, request a special assembly. Gather the people…Let the Lord’s ministers, weep. Let them say, “Have mercy, Lord, on your people… Joel 2:15, 16a, 17b
We enter the Lent season today with the remembering that we are dust and to dust we shall return. I don’t really like that phrase we use in the church with the imposition of ashes. I can understand it on a dead body. If you’ve ever seen a dead body you know what I mean. Cold and lifeless, a dead body is so plainly a dust shell, cold and ashen, in no way the spirit and person I knew before the spirit left and the organs shut down. But myself, now, yet living, a spirit, a personality, a lovely and precious life contained in a remarkable body, why must I receive this mark and remember that I came from dust and back to dust I shall one day return? Why not say, “Take up your cross and follow me?” Words that Jesus used to call the disciples to follow in The Way.
Maybe because I can more easily dismiss those words, “Take up your cross and follow.” I can reason that my cross can mean a whole lot of different things, but dust and ashes? Not much more of a literal and obvious way of saying that I am nothing without the life-giving Spirit of God. To remember that God everlasting entered just such an ashy, fleshly shell and experienced that shell going back to dust. To remember that my time in this incredible gift of life is short and filled with struggle, heartbreak, brokenness, and death, yet that is not all. That the most important gift is the gift of resurrection life, of love and spirit that will never die.
So today I hear again the prophet Joel, sounding the horn, announcing that it is time to rend my heart, to experience once again the brokenness, the wounds, the ashes of promises made and broken, the prejudice and fear, all the ashy-ness of my body. I will wear the sign of ashes on my forehead in the shape of a cross, I will weep and cry out for God’s mercy. I will remember that God in Jesus wore the same cross, and that out of the ashes of death can arise something so beautiful called resurrection, the essence of God’s love that will never die.