“We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
One need only log on to Facebook before the questions begin: “What are you giving up?” “What are you taking on?” “If I refrain from chocolate until Easter, I will save enough money to go on that cruise,” and so on and so forth. These questions and posts are important pieces of the inner and public dialogue of this holy season. A season in which we are faced with our mortality, finitude, and fragility.
And yet, undergirding all of this - what St. Paul describes as imprisonments, joy, sorrow, shipwrecks, wealth, and poverty - is our inherent belovedness. Yes, we grieve. Yes, we mourn. Yes, we experience brokenness. And yes, we are loved. This is the basic reality of our existence. This is the compelling narrative of Christian faith: that God, in Christ, is wildly preoccupied with the reconciliation and wholeness of creation, taking great risk to embody this for us, even death on a Roman cross.
During Lent, there is a temptation to do more, take on more, and be more, evoked by our broader culture of workaholism, perfectionism, and hoarding. If I can simply do better, be better, live better, maybe I’ll feel fulfilled, we think. And maybe we actually do better, are better, and live better. But is that the most helpful way to think of Lent?
On Saturday, recording artist Beyoncé Knowles-Carter released a music video called “Formation”. In it - through lyrics and visuals - Ms. Knowles-Carter amplifies and depicts complex intricacies of southern black life. Toward the end of the video, there is a whole line of black women dancing in a vacant New Orleans parking lot. “Ok ladies, now let’s get in formation,” she exclaims. And just like that, they form a flawless dance line,
reminiscent of a high school drill team’s halftime routine.
And what if that - the syncing of ourselves, aligning of our communities, common life, and baptismal commitments - is all that we’re doing today? What if Ash Wednesday is more than gathering to write Lenten to-do lists and is actually us getting in formation, a formation that readies us to perform what St. Paul refers to as the “ministry of reconciliation”, of alerting all people and even the cosmos that they, that we, that I am loved beyond measure? In a few moments, we will be told to remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return. We will be told that life is fragile, short, unpredictable, and finite. And we will be told we are God’s beloved, partners in God’s work of reclaiming all things for God’s self.
Last year, National Geographic published an interview of a medical pathologist and astrophysicist who co-authored a book about how 40,000 tons of cosmic dust
falling to earth affects us. “Everything we are and everything in the universe and on
Earth originated from stardust, and it continually floats through us even today,” says Iris the medical pathologist.“It directly connects us to the universe, rebuilding our bodies over and again over our lifetimes.” Karel, the astrophysicist goes on to say, “Cells die and rebuild all the time. We're literally not what were a few years ago, and not just because of the way we think. Everything around us does this. Nature is not outside us. We arenature.”
“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” But not just any dust. We are stardust. Lumps of beloved stardust - God dust - who will, in the words of Beyonce, get in formation, lining up to receive the very ashes from which we come and toward which we go. And we will have lived, my friends. We will have been the ashy and dusty people of God: the broken and beloved lumps of stardust.
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Grace-St. Luke’s Church