Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Yet even at the grave we make our song Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia. These familiar lines from services for Ash Wednesday and Burial drive home an essential point in Christian doctrine. Human beings are creatures not gods. In spite of our meager abilities to transcend the limitations of nature, we remain finite creatures who are born, live and die with few of us leaving more than fading memories to mark our passing. And yet we are creatures in whom the image of God is present, creatures beloved of God, creatures who, though judged by God, are also redeemed by God for life eternal, not as disembodied spirits but as unique human beings. It is what allows us to sing Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia even at the grave.
Ash Wednesday reminds us of our creatureliness, our finitude. It is an important reminder because our original sin is to assert self assumed divinity. Because we are able, in some degree, to transcend the limitations of nature, because our ability to reason takes us far beyond our own time and space, we too easily assume our own godliness. The ashes on our foreheads remind us that we are but creatures formed of the dust and to dust we shall return. At the very same time, in this moment between the incarnation and resurrection, we are also reminded that, in Christ and through Christ, our creaturely finitude is given new meaning, new purpose and new life in the eternity of God’s kingdom.
That is what gives life purpose and meaning and why human history is not without intention and direction. We are sinful yet forgiven, finite yet redeemed into life eternal, unworthy yet loved by our creator, broken yet called to be bearers of God’s light. The ashes of Ash Wednesday are a lessons in the humility of divine self confidence that is ours as beloved of God through Christ.