Eleven years ago, I celebrated a significant birthday milestone by participating in an Ash Wednesday service. You know: the service that’s all about reminding you that you came from dust/ashes and you will eventually return to dust/ashes. It was a memorable experience for several reasons.
The service was conducted by two seminary professors of mine. Considering how I come from a non-(some might even say anti-)liturgical church background, I had never experienced an Ash Wednesday service until I was a student at Emmanuel. My first Ash Wednesday service was eye-opening. And awkward. And memorable. It wasn’t a foreign experience for me this second time around, but it was still unique. And it didn’t hurt that two of my professors were imposing the ashes.
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.”
Thank you. Thank you very much, Dr. Blowers. That’s exactly what you want to hear the day you turn thirty. “You’re gonna die soon.” I know, I know. Thirty is the new twenty. Or is it forty? I don’t know. And I don’t know if it really matters all that much. The point is that time keeps on ticking. There’s nothing you can do to stop it.
Dr. Blowers reminded me of my humanity and mortality on my thirtieth birthday as he recited these words and pressed the ashes into my forehead. I still remember the grittiness on his thumb as he firmly formed a cross upon my brow. I still feel the weight of the statement as I recall the moment the sign of Christ’s sacrifice was imposed upon my head.
This year, my birthday fell on Ash Wednesday again. This year, more than ever, I have been reminded of the haunting, beautiful, powerful, and challenging message that is shared every year at this time.
You are dust. You will return to dust.
I don’t think it’s just because Ash Wednesday was on my birthday and it’s eleven years later. It’s definitely part of it. But it’s also the fact that three very important people in my life’s story, David Rinehart, Grandma, and Mr. Gerhart, have left us and touched the face of God. As I’ve reflected on their lives I can’t help but be challenged by the impact they had on the people around them. And then my old youth minister left my old stomping grounds. I’ve thought a lot about ministry, influence, and legacy over the past few months. And I think it all came culminated on Ash Wednesday of this year.
I didn’t attend a service. I did not receive ashes on my head. But I did hear Dr. Blowers’s voice inside my Mind’s Ear:
“Remember that you are dust. And to dust you will return.”
And I realized that it’s time to step up my game. In the grand scheme of things, I don’t have much time. None of us has much time, really. My memories have challenged me. They’ve inspired me. And now I’m approaching life with a clarified vision. I want to invest in things that matter. I want to make a difference in the world around me. And I cannot let up. Because the days are numbered. Your days are. My days are. We are dust. And we will return to dust one day.
Because the things we do now can have a lasting impact on the people we meet. The legacy we leave will outlive these gray hairs, sore muscles, and tired bones. I want to leave the type of legacy that continues from generation to generation. That’s the kind of life I want to live now. And it’s the kind of life I want to be remembered for when I’m gone.
What kind of legacy do you want to leave? How do you want to be remembered?