We have set on our Lenten journey once again. As Walter Brueggemann puts it, that journey is a hazardous one, ‘full of toils and snares, potholes and adversaries.’ For many in southern Queensland and northern New South Wales, our Lenten journey began full of ‘toils and snares, potholes and adversaries.’
But as Psalm 121 reminds us, we don’t make that journey alone: ‘I lift up my eyes to the hills – from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth’ (v.1-2). Our God is a God of the road, of the journey, who travels with us on our Lenten journey towards Holy Week and beyond.
Brueggemann’s words echoed deep within my soul, as I joined a group of ‘mud army’ volunteers to clean the flooded ground floor of Church House in Milton. This was on Ash Wednesday. Mud quickly turns to dust in Queensland’s heat and sunshine. There was something deeply metaphorical about our ‘mud army’ work on Ash Wednesday; mud that quickly turns to dust.
Our Lenten journey begins with dust wiped on our foreheads, which brings with it the reminder of mortality: ‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.’ As one pastor put it, we are used to sweeping the dust under the carpet, or someone else’s carpet. But along comes Ash Wednesday and takes that dust and wipes it on our foreheads for all to see. And we walk around with ashes on our foreheads acknowledging that I’m a sinner, I have sinned by my fault, by my own fault, by my own most grievous fault and now the dust that I have continued to sweep under the carpet, is smudged on my forehead for all to see. I can’t hide it.
That dust, however, is on our foreheads in the shape of a cross and it’s transformed by Christ’s cross into forgiveness and resurrection and a restoration of joy. It is now a reminder that God will indeed ‘uphold me with a willing spirit,’ as the Psalmist writes. We are not just dust, we are beloved dust, dust anointed in baptism and dust that Jesus has redeemed and embraced and forgiven.
Faithfully and prayerfully,