Ash Wednesday 2019

Ash Wednesday
March 6, 2019 A+D
Genesis 3: 14-19

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our ash ceremony centers of the words: “remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” This is the last part of the curse spoken to Adam as he is expelled from the garden. What it means is that Adam will die and be food for serpents.

We make a distinction between three types of death: physical, spiritual, and eternal. . . .

The words to Adam, “you are dust and to dust you shall return,” follows, most immediately, the curse on the ground that makes work into drudgery and causes thorns and thistles. Just before that are the words to Eve. Her pain in childbirth is multiplied and we all live out her days chafing under imperfect people in authority over us. And just before that is the cursing of serpents. They are cursed above all livestock and wild animals. They go about on their bellies and eat dust. And we are to remember that we are dust and to dust will return, which is to say, not only that we will die but that Satan and his demons shall lust for us and seek to consume us.

But just after that, in the midst of the curse of the serpent, is the promise.

Genesis 3:15 (ESV)
15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your
offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you
shall bruise his heel.”

Enmity is a noun. It is a thing that causes enemies. God says He will put this thing between Satan and the woman, between his seed and her seed. Her seed will bruise Satan’s head. He will bruise the woman’s seed.

Adam and Eve had joined forces with Satan by eating that which was forbidden. God refuses to let that stand. He sets them against one another by standing between them and He joins Himself to our cause by becoming the woman’s seed whose heel is bruised but who destroys Satan. Women, of course, don’t have seeds. They have eggs. Before Adam and Eve get the list of consequences for their sins, they get a promise of the virgin birth and the atonement. God is taking on the cost of their folly in Himself. He will not let Satan have them.

The curses weren’t the first words that God spoke to Adam and Eve after the Fall. First He came seeking them and He probed them with questions meant to expose them and to give them a chance to confess. There is no doubt that they felt the accusation in those gentle questions, but they did not respond very well. The Law did not bring them to a noticeable crisis of conscience and terror of damnation. Rather Adam blame Eve and God for giving him Eve. Eve blamed the serpent, hinting that she was not culpable since she was deceived.

God can see their hearts. They do not give good answers but they do give answers born of pain and fear. They are struck by the Law and grasping at air like the lawyer who was crushed by the Law and asked Jesus “Who is my neighbor?”

God gives them the Gospel in its purest form. He, Himself, will join them as a man without the aid of a man and will make Himself mortal to die the death they should have died and snatch them back from Satan.

And then He proceeds with the consequence of their rebellion: expulsion from the garden, pain and danger in childbirth, chafing under authority, work turned to drudgery and a certain animosity in nature, and, finally the pronouncement that we are dust and to dust we shall return. The Gospel doesn’t remove the Law. It does remove all punishment or memory of sin or temptation. What it does it set Satan against us. He is our enemy, not God. He lusts for us and wants to consume us. Adam and Eve believe what God says. They trust that even though they now go about their lives in hardship and as ageing, dying men, that He is on their side, that He loves them, that He will defeat their enemy for them and keep them with Himself forever. They await entry into a greater garden. While they wait they must remember that they will suffer physical death and return to dust but that they will not go to Hell. They belong to Chrsit.

He dies eternal death for them and us on the cross. That is what He means by “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me.” He is in Hell, apart from His Father’s blessings, suffering the wrath of the Father. When He says “It is finished,” He means that Hell is finished, that there is not more to pay. Then He dies physically. His body and soul are separated. This sanctifies physical death and transforms the return to dust into a portal or passageway to life and the Father.

This is what we remember when we remember that we are dust and thus we are prepared and ready to return to dust. For in this way, literally, we will heed the call of Joel and return to the Father who made us, not as prodigal sons with our tails between our legs, but as the Bride immaculate and ready for the Bridegroom for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.

In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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