This Lent I invite you to come along as we explore some symbols of the season. The idea is adapted from Lent in a Bag
“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.” (from the TV program Cosmos). Maybe that sounds amazing to you. But the psalmist said essentially the same thing millennia ago: “For he himself knows whereof we are made; he remembers that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14)… So, yes we are made of starstuff. Pretty cool. But even more astounding—and in fact life-giving and life-changing—is that we are actually made in the image of and loved deeply by the One who created the stars.”The famed astronomer Carl Sagan said,
dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.” (Genesis 28:14) God further promises, “The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent's food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain.” (Isaiah 65:25)Your descendants will be like the
Sometimes God’s people get a glimpse of the totality of these promises. In 1 Samuel 2:8, Hannah exalts, “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor. For the foundations of the earth are the LORD's; on them he has set the world.” The Psalmist states, “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap.” (Psalm 113:7) St. Paul reminds the people of Corinth “The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven.” (1 Corinthians 15:47)
In ancient times, the soil of a place was thought to contain the essence of the god of the land. After Naaman the Syrian is healed by the Jewish prophet Elisha he requests, “Please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord”. (2 Kings 5: 17) He desired the actual earth of Israel so he could have a piece of the sacred soil with him. Some scholars believe that the Jews in exile in Babylon took soil from Israel with them for the same purpose. Tourists still bring back bottles of sand from Israel to remind them of their trip.
Jesus uses dust to warn of the rejection of those who do not believe the Good News. In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark & Luke, he tells the disciples, “If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” This was much more meaningful to the Jews of the first century than for us. Jews returning from “Gentile” areas would shake off their sandals when entering Israel to get rid of any taint of the non-Jewish land and people. For the disciples to shake the dust of a town off their feet when leaving a town that wouldn’t receive the message was an insult and a rejection of those people for their unbelief.
Next week we’ll look at the role of ‘rock’ in Lent.