Abundant Love — Day 8
The God who rescues you
Welcome to Abundant Love, an eight day email series exploring God’s rich love for us through Scripture and story. Today’s devotional was written by Erin Strybis.
“Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing” (Joel 2:13).
A year ago, on Ash Wednesday, I sat in worship with my hands clasped, trying to pray.
“We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others as we have been forgiven,” the worship leader intoned.
Snow blanketed the ground outside the chapel windows, and the cushioned seat beneath me felt unusually hard. “Have mercy on us, O God,” I responded with the assembly.
Head bowed, I imagined our words of repentance washing over me, feeling a mix of regret and relief. So begins the season of Lent — our journey walking alongside Christ to the cross — with clear acknowledgement of our individual and corporate need for his grace. Ash Wednesday, in particular, brings us to a truth we’d much rather avoid: one day, we’ll die.
Death felt especially near last year. Waiting in line to receive ashes, I thought of my father, who’d recently undergone radiation treatment. Although he’d recovered, cancer’s sting had left its mark. A tough Army veteran, he’d lost so much weight I barely recognized him.
The pastor dipped her pointer finger in the ashes and pressed it on my forehead gently, swishing it up-down-right-left to form a compact cross. She blessed me with the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). I walked back to my seat in silence.
God formed Adam out of dust. Bodies laid to rest turn into dust when they decompose in the earth. Dust, invisible, yet everywhere, clings to the ceiling fan, the baseboards, the window panes. It twists in the wind, tumbles across the streets. Ice latches onto dust to create something entirely new — sparkling snowflakes, each a tiny marvel, raining from the heavens like manna. Jesus rose from the dust so that we might leave our dusty bodies behind and join him in heaven.
What does our Creator hope for us at Lent? I think that we might pause and confront our dustiness, and live differently because of it.
From my seat in the cold chapel that day I thought of bodies, dust, death and life. I thought of my father, still with us. I blinked back tears as I sang, “Dust and ashes touch our face, mark our failure and our falling, Holy Spirit come, walk with us tomorrow, take us as disciples washed and wakened by your calling.“ And I glanced outside at the snow — shards of ice and dust — a thing of beauty. A visible reminder of a God who rescues us out of the dust.
“If our lives were a long piece of fabric with our baptism on one end and our funeral on another, and we don’t know the distance between the two, then Ash Wednesday is a time when that fabric is pinched in the middle and the ends are held up so that our baptism in the past and our funeral in the future meet. The water and words from our baptism plus the earth and words from our funerals have come from the past and future to meet us in the present. And in that meeting we are reminded of the promises of God: That we are God’s, that there is no sin, no darkness, and yes, no grave that God will not come to find us in and love us back to life.”
— Nadia Bolz-Weber
Today, set aside quiet time to listen to the song “You Make Beautiful Things Out of the Dust” and share it with a friend or family member who might need extra encouragement in his/her/their faith. Watch a video of this song here:
on this Ash Wednesday,
we remember the facts of life:
that we are born of your love,
and made to love;
that, sometimes, we fail to love,
and other times, we flourish;
that one day soon,
our bodies will return to the earth;
that you love us so much
you sent us a Savior —
love incarnate —
to die in our place
to rescue our souls from the dust
so we might join you in heaven.
Thank you for joining us these last eight days for your Abundant Love devotional! We’re honored to share our words and faith with you. It is our prayer that our messages have reminded you of God’s deep, abundant love for us all.
We’ll send you one more email next week to close out the series and share ways you can continue to connect with us through our writings.
With gratitude, Erin and Kim