Alan Neale

Writer • Speaker

Sermon “Remembering Dust” – Ash Wednesday, March 1 2017. Trinity Church, Newport RI. The Reverend Alan Neale

Today is Ash Wednesday; sermon audio is followed by sermon text.

Sermon Preached at Trinity Church, Newport RI; Ash Wednesday March 1st 2017
The Reverend Alan Neale; “Remembering Dust”

Psalm 103:14 “He remembers that we are but dust” or Message Translation “He keeps in mind that we’re made of mud.”

By the glorious wonders of the internet, I recently received a pictorial “Catholic Guide to Ashes.” The guide shows the many and varied ways in which clergy impose and shape ashes on the blessed foreheads of penitent parishioners and wastrel worshippers.

For instance, there’s the “first in line” – a strong bold cross, then the “blob”, “the hasty”, “the OCD”, “the load toner” and my favorite “Father’s Revenge” – very strong, very large and very permanent. And last night, after mouthfuls of pancake, Anne Marie and I talked about the current trend to include “glitter” in ashes. I really respect its intention but still…

But in the midst of all this Lenten drollery, please don’t think that imposition of ashes is something clergy take lightly. It has always been one of the most meaningful acts of pastoral/priestly care to look at those I serve and rehearse these solemn words “Remember you are dust… and to dust you shall return.” It is so very moving to impose ashes on those living with terminal illness, or to make the mark on the forehead of a young baby or (and for me most wretchedly emotional) to make the mark and say the words on my beloved Wendy.

And yet, friends, the words accompanying the imposition of ashes are not all bad news.

When I remember that “I am but dust” my exhausting exertions to fit the artificial and unwarranted expectations of others are eased.
When I remember that “I am but dust” my agonizing attempts to ride the “beast of not-enoughness” are calmed.

And when God remembers “that I am but dust”, He looks with pity not with blame. Pascal once wrote, “Tout comprendre c’est tout pardoner” – “to understand is to forgive.” The Lord knows whereof we are made, He knows our frame, He remembers that we are but dust and so, thus, therefore “He is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness.”

Today a piece of mold is up for auction in London today. But the item at Bonhams, Lot 92, is no ordinary fungus nor near dust. It was part of the batch that Alexander Fleming used to produce penicillin in 1928… a happy accident that changed that world of medicine and saved millions of lives.

By some “happy accident” we are here today to remember we are dust but also to celebrate that as the Lord “remembers we are but dust” we are accepted, forgiven and restored.

Thanks be to God. Amen