Collect Reflections: Ash Wednesday
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This post, in addition to being a part of Rookie Anglican, is part of a series on the Collects of the Christian Year (ACNA), called “Collect Reflections.” If you’re just jumping in, make sure to check out the introductory post, “Announcing Collect Reflections.” All Collect Reflection posts can be found here.
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Dusting Is the Worst
There are many household duties that I don’t mind, and even some that I somewhat enjoy. Vacuuming is one of those.
Then there are those chores which I can’t stand: the true chores. For my wife, vacuuming is one of those (we make a good couple). But, I can’t think of anything worse than dusting.
I remember dusting the house when I was a young boy. I recall the frustrating work of unloading the shelves of books and frames, wiping each shelf, and then loading everything back on. Of finding a chair to stand on to reach the fan blades. Of wiping down the window sills. Of removing the residue from the dining room table and giving it a rub-down of lemon oil.
I think the reason I don’t like dusting is that it seems to stir up something which was otherwise stagnant. Dust is just there. It’s not bothering anybody. It’s not unsanitary. It’s just minding its own business. You really don’t notice it until you look closely or when the light hits it just right.
Dust Is the Worst
But, we seem to recognize innately that dust shouldn’t be there. It’s something to be removed, even if we’re not interested in doing the removal ourselves.
Yet, when we are tasked with the work of dusting, no matter how good a job we do inevitably dust is kicked up into the air and then settles again on the same shelves, blades, sills, and tables which we just cleaned. (Maybe this is why it is called “dusting” and not “un-dusting.”)
My distaste for dusting hasn’t improved since moving to Phoenix, Arizona in September. Here dust is more ubiquitous than ever. This is the Wild West. Dirt is dust. It’s outside floating in the air, settling in thin layers on everything around with seldom any rain to wash it away. It makes its way inside, adding to the coating of dead skin and organic matter which rests on furniture and decorations.
Now, I like living in Arizona. But dust is a bigger part of my life than it’s ever been. We have weather events here–called haboobs–in which the main players are dust and wind. Air quality is a challenge and many people deal with respiratory problems as a result. Dust here is more dangerous, more violent than in the East. Dust could very easily be considered something worthy of disdain.
Yet, God Loves Dust
Yet, as the collect for Ash Wednesday says, God hates nothing he has made: dust included. Whether it’s the dust in the empty lot next-door, the dust saturating the air, or the dust in living rooms, God does not despise this created matter. Neither does God despise you and me.
From the very beginning you and I have always been dust:
“…then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Gen. 2:7).
Our dust-stuff is always there, though it’s been divinely fashioned into something more approachable: the stuff of bone, muscle, sinew, organ, and skin.
However, humans frequently take more drastic measures in disguising our dust: clothes, cologne, jewelry, make-up, you name it. All of this means that we often fail to see our dust-stuff.
Though our bodies are presently on trajectories of decay which promise a swift return to the dust from which we came, we’ve found ways to forget. We’ve even found ways to disguise and excuse our countless offenses against God – Sin – through which we purchased and punched the tickets for our cursed, grave-bound journey.
Remember, You Are Dust
But, as it is with everyday dust, when we look closely or when the right Light hits us, then we can see ourselves for what we truly are.
We can see that apart from God’s forming words and His Spirit’s breath we lack existence and substance. We can see that apart from divine deliverance our corruptness of spirit has led to the corruption of our bodies. The season of Lent, which we begin with this Collect, calls us to remember that we are dust just like Ps. 103:14 says that God always “remembers that we are dust.”
Dusting, God’s Way
But while Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, it doesn’t end there.
When God created human beings in his image, God took something inanimate – dust – and gave it animation. He took something lowly and made it lofty. He took something dirty and made it clean.
This is no different in God’s re-creation of human beings, as the Collect prays: “Create and make in us new and contrite hearts.”
Lent ends when the spiritual dust of Ash Wednesday is transformed from inanimate to animate, from lowly to lofty, from dirty to clean.
Fr. Peter Smith (email@example.com) has been the Rector at Living Faith Anglican Church in Tempe, AZ since September 2017. He and his wife, Kristie, have been married since 2009 and have two children: Cohen (2013) and Hannah (2015). He is a graduate of Beeson Divinity School where he received an M.Div. with a Certificate in Anglican Studies. He was ordained as an Anglican presbyter in 2014 and served for 3 1/2 years as the Assistant Pastor at St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Birmingham, AL. As a pastor, Peter is passionate about preaching and teaching, sharing the sacraments, discipling, shepherding, and living on mission for Christ. With his free time, Peter enjoys good conversation, craft beverages, being outside, riding his scooter, playing with a ball of any kind, and spending time with his family.
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