“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return”.
Not that long ago I recall saying those ritual words and applying ashy crosses to the foreheads of friends knowing these folk were well aware of their own mortality. One had stage four cancer, and the other had just buried her spouse and was struggling with a terminal disease. Yet there they were, standing before me as I marked them as human: humans from the humus, earthlings from the earth. Mortal.
This action – reminding them they would return to the earth – was an affirmation of what they had already grappled with. What was different in that moment was the knowledge that everyone around them had joined them in those thoughts. In that specific time and place, we all remembered we were little more than dust. Although their arms bore the bruises of blood work and IV tubes… we all bore dusty crosses on our foreheads or hands. We joined them in remembering who we were, as well as Whose we were.
Churches also get a bit dusty. Churches that were built for specific purposes and demographics find their purpose challenged as neighborhoods change. Some adapt and find new purpose (sort of like what the March of Dimes did after the polio vaccine was developed!). Others relocate either to reach a new mission field, or to flee a mission field they fear.
Congregations die. The Church does not.
When we remember how tenuous our existence is as individuals and as a corporate body, we may also remember we belong to the Creator of dust and starlight. Acknowledging our eventual death as individuals and as congregations helps us to remember that our purpose is not to live forever. Indeed, “The Church is to be a community of faith, entrusting itself to God alone, even at the risk of losing its life.” (F-1.0301). From the most robust congregation filled with vitality to the church that struggles every day to survive… we are all dust, and we all belong to God. We all bear the mark of the cross.
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Remember that you….we… all belong to God.