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Dust and the Dash

Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.

We are---all of us---have been made out of the dust and will return to the dust. That’s a definite.

What isn’t so sure, what isn’t definite, what isn’t cast in stone, is what we do between those times.

I once heard a funeral homily that was all about the dash.

The dash.

You know the mark between the date of birth and date of death on the tombstone. The sermon was all about the dash….for the dash covers the life lived. The dash is what’s between the dust we are at the beginning and the dust we end up being at the end. The dash is the life we lived. The dash is who we are.

You don’t see a lot of Hallmark cards wishing folks a Happy Ash Wednesday.

There isn’t a Charlie Brown Ash Wednesday special (although, come to think of it, Charlie Brown really has the personality for the common perception of what Ash Wednesday is all about-- wretchedness, despair and heartache.) No Ash Wednesday makes most people pretty darn uncomfortable.

It reminds us of our absolute and non-negotiable mortality.

It reminds us that we are here, walking upon this earth, for a finite amount of time.

It reminds us that at the end, the sum total of our life will be wrapped up in that dash.

Ash Wednesday is about dust, but it’s also about that dash.

It begs the question: If your life ended today, what would that dash represent? Do you feel good about that dash? Are you pleased with that dash?

And what about your Creator? How’s God feeling about that dash?

I don’t know about you, but the thought: if my life ended right here and right now, would I be proud of the life I lived?”, makes me real uneasy. Because I know, as I’m sure many of you know, that there are all sorts of things I wish we could “do over.” All sorts of things that we regret and would like to correct. Some big some little, some in between. But all of them—these are the things that separate us from God.

Our regrets, our missing the mark, our mistakes separate us from God.
But NOT in the way you think.

What separates us from God is not the things we’ve done which we now regret, it’s the regret, it’s the shame, it’s the embarrassment, it’s the anger, it’s the denial---it’s all the stuff wrapped in and around those things we’ve done, things we’ve not done, things we’ve thought, things we’ve felt—which separate us from God….

Which brings me to the Good News.

The GREAT news of Ash Wednesday.

The dash---all the stuff that happens between us coming from dust and returning to dust---is in our control . Missed the mark? Your life has gone in some unfortunate directions? Your life’s not what you want it to be? You feel off course?

No problem—Repent: that is, change course. Forgive yourself: that means stop beating yourself up and return to the Lord. For God? God is always waiting, always ready to receive us and all that goes into our dash. And Lent?  Lent is the perfect time to take stock and to take action…for we all come from the dust and to the dust we shall all return, but right now?

Right now we have lives to live, dashes to fill.

- Catherine Dempesy, excerpted from "Dust Dash Dust," a sermon preached on February 22, 2012 at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, Buffalo, NY


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