Green Team — Ash Wednesday: From Dust To Dust

Pastor Kris Litman-Koon explores how Ash Wednesday is an invitation to reassess what we value with God, with neighbor, and with creation.

Readings for Ash Wednesday, Years A, B, and C (2023, 2026)

  • Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
  • Isaiah 58:1-12 (alternate)
  • Psalm 51:1-17
  • 2 Corinthians 5:20b—6:10
  • Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

The Invitation to Lent is only three brief paragraphs, yet this invitation strongly directs us to recall the stories of creation and new creation in scripture. The most obvious connection to eco-theology in the Invitation to Lent takes place in its second paragraph, which says in part, “We are created to experience joy in communion with God, to love one another, and to live in harmony with creation. But our sinful rebellion separates us from God, our neighbors, and creation, so that we do not enjoy the life our creator intended.” Clearly there is a vision for an existence that is balanced and at peace with God, neighbor, and physical world of which we are a part, and clearly humanity fails to experience that vision in its entirety. A literal interpretation of the Genesis passages is not required to believe this is the case, for all of us should be able to admit that humanity is not rising to the ideal of living in harmony with God, with each other, and with the world around us.

The Imposition of Ashes has the prominent proclamation “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” spoken to each person. This is a reference to the creation of Ha-adam found in Genesis 2:7; “then the Lord God formed [Ha-adam] from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and [Ha-adam] became a living being.” Ha-adam (i.e. earth creature or dust creature) has an undisputed etymological connection to Adamah (i.e. dust, dirt, and earth). In fact, this connection to the earth is what defines the creature.

The link between every person and the dust of the earth is a direct one. The breath of God that gives life to the dust creature (Genesis 2:7) is a breath that we all receive. That breath of life is what sustains us, for once we stop this breath, that is when we begin to return to dust. Our scientific understanding of the interplay of the various kingdoms of biology allows us to see how connected our breathing is to the breathing of other creatures, and that the dust of our bodies is connected to the dust of other creatures. God is the source and sustainer of these processes.

Ash Wednesday is a day to reflect on your own mortality, on your own contributions to this planet for a blip of time, and to mourn a future without you. Focusing on our mortality and thinking of a future that exists beyond our death can motivate action now. This is certainly true in our spiritual lives, as evidenced by people engaging the worship service, and it is true of our social lives, as we anticipate a future planet existing beyond our own lifetimes.

Individually, each of us will have to go through a grieving process for the loss of a world we believed in our bones would always be there. Collectively, to help mourn and accept this loss, we will have to share with one another the alternative visions of a shared future, stories about how climate doom is not inevitable, and what the future Earth might look like if we do what is required – and still entirely possible – to hold off the greatest threat to our very existence” (Eric Holthaus, The Future Earth. New York: HarperOne, 2020, p. 21).

Excerpted from a Lectionary Commentary originally written by Kris Litman-Koon in 2023, accessed 1/14/2024 at the Lutherans Restoring Creation Website.