Joel 2: 1-2, 12-17; Psalm 103; 2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
The Rev. James M.L. Grace
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
If you believe in the Big Bang Theory, (the scientific theory that explains the origins of the universe, not the TV show), then you probably believe that the universe began sometime around 13.8 billion years ago. The theory is basically that the universe started 13.8 billion years ago with some sort of catalyst or “bang” that sent matter out in all directions. Scientists point to the evidence of galaxies in the universe which appear to be spreading out further from each other to defend this theory. The Big Bang Theory also proposes that the beginning of the universe involved a massive amount of very hot energy which was released into space. When the energy cooled, sub atomic particles emerged, which formed atoms, the building blocks of all matter. Atoms joined with other atoms to form molecules. These molecules, scientists hypothesize, grew in complexity, joining together to form larger structures, eventually forming into the thing we will put on our foreheads momentarily: dust.
Dust, in the expanding universe, was forced together at speeds we cannot even comprehend, to form rocks, which eventually became stars, which clustered together, form galaxies, and so on.
At some point in the future, some scientists believe, the universe will stop expanding, and begin to shrink. Basically, a reversal of the Big Bang, scientists call this the “Big Crunch”. The idea of the Big Crunch is that everything in the universe will collapse into itself at astounding velocity, until the universe is compressed into a rock, then dust, then molecules, then atoms, then subatomic particles, then nothing. The universe would end as it began.
Massively intricate galaxies, nebulae, dark matter, and black holes that were created from dust, will once again return to that primal state. It seems that singer Joni Mitchell got it right in her song “Woodstock” when she sang “we are stardust.” We are made of the same dust, the same atoms, that presumably existed at the very beginning of the universe. So, in a few minutes when a dark cross made of ash is imposed upon your forehead and you hear the words “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” those words are literally true.
Ultimately, we are made of dust, but that is not all. In the second chapter of the book of Genesis, we find the story of God creating a person literally out of the ground. God gives this person the name “Adam,” which is closely related to the Hebrew word adamah, which means “ground, dirt, or earth.” “Adamah” also sounds a lot like “Adama” which is the last name of Edward James Olmos’ character in “Battlestar Galactica” a TV show set in outer space that follows the remnants of humanity as they search for the planet Earth. Adamah – Adama – Adam – Earth. The name Adam is a reminder that this person is made of the earth, of dirt, and of dust. It is into this dirt person that God breathes a spirit, and Adam comes alive.
Ash Wednesday is a day in which we acknowledge the life God has breathed into each of us. It is also a day in which we are reminded that it is not God’s design for this life, this breath, to remain in our bodies forever. We will die.
But if God breathed life into us, as God did when we took our first breath as a newborn baby, God will, at the end of our life, breathe in our very last breath. We will return to God, the source of all life, the architect of the expanding universe we find ourselves in. If, as some scientists predict, that the universe will one day eventually return to itself, as the dust of the stars in our bodies will one day become dust once again, so to will God reclaim us, as we will be absorbed into God’s embrace.
All of us go down to the dust, yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. AMEN.