In Life and in Death…

“You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3: 19

Ash Wednesday was always one of the more powerful services of the year for me as a church pastor. As I made the mark of the cross on each person’s forehead, I said those words, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” It was always an intimate moment of connection.

ash wednesdayThe experience was different for each person. Looking into the eyes of the 88-year old widowed parishioner the words felt powerful as if I was wrapping my arms around her in this tender and sacred season of life. While marking the forehead of the 15-year old teenager, I smiled a soft smile knowing that this was more of a teaching moment than a reflection of an existential experience.

These words are important, especially in our culture where we are more tempted to recite every year, “You are only as old as you feel,” “Age is only a state of mind,” and where products to keep us looking young are a multi-billion dollar industry.

“You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Damn, those are sobering words!

They are also liberating words.

Singer/songwriter, Dan Fogelberg wrote, “Death is there is to keep us honest; and constantly remind us we are free.” Yes, death frees us to live!

Henri Frederic Amiel writes what has become a favorite church benediction, “Life is short. We don’t have much time to gladden the hearts of those who walk this way with us. So, be swift to love and make haste to be kind.” In other words, live and love now.

old and youngI write all this as an introduction to share the prayer that I wrote earlier this month. In preparation for the 224th General Assembly in Baltimore in June, 180 church leaders across the denomination were asked to submit prayers. I wanted to write a prayer that reminded us that it was okay to trust God in both life and in death. I wanted to write this prayer to remind us that the life that Ash Wednesday points us to in death is the same life that Easter points us to in resurrection. I wrote this prayer to remind us of our opening sentence in the Brief Statement of Faith: “In life and in death we belong to God.” Here is my prayer.

A Prayer for the 224th General Assembly

The Mystics’ Version

In life and in death we belong to you, O God.

Beginnings and endings

Baptism and burial

First breath and last breath

Hello and goodbye

 

We belong to you, O God, in your sacred seasons.

Sunrise invitations and sunset completions

Spring and fall, summer and winter

Life blossoming and life decaying

High hopes and deep despair

 

We belong to you, O God, in your ever-evolving Creation.

Fusion and fissure

Building up and tearing down

Upsizing and downsizing

Holding on and letting go

 

We belong to you, O God—a dance between two lovers.

The delight of laughter, the pain of tears

Faithful trust and healthy suspicion

Divine connection and sacred separation

Intimate communion and soulful solitude

 

We belong to you, O Christ, God incarnate.

Forming and reforming

Dying and rising…

Dying and rising…

Dying and rising…again and still.

 

In life and in death we belong to you, O God.

So be it.

So it is.

Amen.

By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades

7 thoughts on “In Life and in Death…

    1. Thank you, Carole. A funny thing I have learned is if I speak to my own heart it has a way of touching others as well. I am so glad you found this meaningful.

      Like

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