Thursday, April 13, 2017

Tasting Dust

Good Friday 2017

Do you know the taste of dust?

Of course you do.  “You are dust and to dust you shall return.”  The old Ash Wednesday admonition echoes Psalm 103: “As a father has compassion on his children, the Lord’s compassion is on those who fear him. For he knows of what we are made; he remembers that we are dust.” God never forgets, though we do.  As Genesis 2 tells our story, God was there, on that riverbank in Eden, right down in the dust, mixing up a batch of clay from earth and river water, and breathing life into it: the first human being!  And God still remembers it.

The westerns beloved of my childhood—as confessed in the previous post—taught me many things about the perennial battle of good vs. evil, though I hardly thought in those terms as a five-year-old entranced by the very first TV cowboys on my grandparents’ brand new set.  One thing those cowboys taught me was the inescapable connection between dust and death.  Many a gunfighter on those shows “licked the dust” or “bit the dust.”  And I gradually learned that they never got up to rinse out their mouths and go on with life. 

Years later, I was a little startled much later to hear the psalmist express the emphatic hope that the enemies of Psalm 72’s royal hero would “lick the dust!”  But in the gospels, it is instead the hero himself who licks the dust.  We see it happening before our eyes in the Stations of the Cross where we remember Jesus falling down on the dusty road to Calvary, not once but three times.  The gospels don’t record those stories, but it’s not hard to believe that a fairly young man once muscled by years of toting carpenters’ tools and wooden beams and heavy tables and stools, and further strengthened by a three years’ trek the length and breadth of Palestine and beyond, could at last have exhausted all his resources in preaching, teaching, healing, casting out demons, and even raising the dead.  “To lay down one’s life” for all the others means far more than dying. Giving all he had to give, he spent himself utterly in the battle of good vs. evil.  And, worn out at last by sleep deprivation, emotional abuse, physical punishment, and blood loss, he fell three times.  He got up again each time, the foretaste of mortality dry as dust in his mouth as he walked on toward that final showdown.  

In a very different time and place, and on a very different scale, it was the same battle I had first learned about when I watched good guys and bad guys fight it out in those long ago days when you could tell which side a gunslinger was on by the color of his hat.  (And yes, they were all men.  Annie Oakley was all for show and not for real.  But I wasn’t deceived.  I already knew that the fight wasn’t limited by gender.)  In those old stories, the good guys always won, so I was not really prepared, on first hearing the gospel story, to see the Good Guy bite the dust so irrevocably on the cross.  Surely he would get up again?  He had to!

Like Jesus, we all know the taste of dust.  We are children of that ancient riverbank, born from dust and to dust destined to return.  And we too have fallen face down on the road, more times than we can count.  And we have wondered how we would ever find the strength to stand up and journey on.

The answer awaits us on Easter.  There we will remember again that Jesus, clay broken and ground back to dust on Good Friday, did get up again.  But not like any TV cowboy getting to his feet unassisted, dusting himself off, holstering his six-gun, whistling for his horse and riding off into the sunset to get back to business as usual.  Jesus got up unseen and emerged from the tomb transformed, robed in glory, never to die again.

And, taking the hand he stretches out to us, so will we!

Copyright 2017, Abbey of St. Walburga

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