The traditional Ash Wednesday words “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” might seem depressing. But in our often death-denying culture, some might find it refreshing to hear the frank statement that we can do nothing to save ourselves, physically or spiritually — that, no matter how we try to avoid sin, we can’t untangle ourselves from self-interest. How liberating, then, to know we don’t have to! God loves us as we are and sent Jesus to break sin’s power over us.
A pastor described Ash Wednesday as the point you can pinch in the middle of a long piece of ribbon, such that when you lift it high, the two ends — one symbolizing our baptism and the other, our funeral — meet and touch. We come from dust and will return to dust, but we also come from God and will return to God. Ash Wednesday reminds us that we’re always safe in God’s love.