Dust thou art; and to dust thou shalt return.

It’s not very big, is it? Six inches by six inches by six and a half inches. It’s not very big, this ordinary brown box I am holding before you. It was sent here to the Church about ten years ago, and I kept it. It’s been in my office, and every now and then my eye falls upon it, and I am reminded of what I am.

Years ago this would have been called a memento mori – a reminder of death – and people often had such things on their desks or in their studies to .   .   .  remind them of death. And this rather plain brown box is indeed a reminder of death, for it once contained what remained of a human being. Six inches by six inches by six and a half inches. It’s not very big. And it will be the same for me, and it will be the same for you. After that last breath and the passing of time, there’s not a great deal left.

Dust thou art; and to dust thou shalt return.

Death and dust: that is one of the realities we are summoned by the Church to reflect upon today. Whether we like it or not – and we don’t – death and dust are our destination. I shall die, and you too one of these fine days will undergo that mystery which is death. And, again, in time, each of us will fit nicely into a space the size of this box: six by six by six and a half. And in that box will be dust – only dust. You and me.

Some people in our society might say that I was being morbid this evening. I don’t care. I don’t pay any attention to them. Our society is not very serious. It’s pretty empty. It doesn’t think deeply about anything at all, and often its spokesmen use words like “morbid” or “pessimistic” simply to avoid considering the hard and serious truths of human life. And this is one of those truths: that I am dust and so are you.

And yet, it would be morbid, I suppose, if this were the whole truth. But it is not. I am dust, and you are dust, but we are also more than that – we are dust raised by God in our creation to glory and we are dust bound by God in our redemption for glory. Dust is part of what we are and part of what we shall be, but it is not our ultimate destination. Our destination, our end, is glory.

Dust, of course, is how we began. The Book of Genesis tells us that God created man and woman out of the dust of the earth, and, however you may wish to interpret that, it is surely true. But .   .   . that dust was created, says Scripture, in the image of God – God’s glory. What we are then, each of us, is dust raised to glory – dust formed by God to be his image. The dust is ours; the glory, the life, is God’s. Every moment, every hour, every day of our life, our very self, our life is God’s. It all depends on God. Without God we are dust, and nothing more.

But the Bible also tells us that if dust is our beginning, glory is our end, for we are destined for greater glory still. We will one day return in death to the dust out of which we were made, but that dust is not the last word to be spoken of you and me. The last word is Jesus – the new Adam – the mystic beginning of a new humanity.  He, His image and His glory is our ultimate destination. And our end – His glory – will be even greater than the glory of our beginning. Dust raised to glory and bound for glory – you and me.

Today begins Lent, and in Lent we turn our attention to the struggle of Jesus to deliver us from the dusty, deadly aspect of ourselves. Those aspects of our lives we call sin. They are the ways by which we deny the glory of God – which is in us – ways by which we deny the glory to which, in our creation, we were raised. They are the ways we refuse to live up to, to mirror in our lives the image of God in which we were made. Hatred, envy, lust, pride, greed, faithlessness, despair – I need not go through the whole sorry and sordid list. We know it already, don’t we? What we proclaim, though, is that Jesus has given us the means – and that Jesus is Himself the means– to do away with these things and to restore the image of God which is what we really are. Jesus in this life allows us to realize our glory and to put aside our dust.

Dust thou art; and to dust thou shalt return.

In a few moments each of us will receive that smudge of dust, ashes, which is the mark of our mortality. Don’t wipe it off. Go home tonight and take a look in the mirror. Be reminded that that is what you are: dust. And look again, see the glory that God has made out of that dust – you, yourself, your life. And don’t forget – there is even more. God went to work in Jesus to battle against the dusty, deadly things which diminish us, and God won. And the dust which is you and me – praise God! – is bound for greater glory still.