Vantage Point

Out of the Dust

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I absolutely love the Easter season. We are celebrating the most important feast in the Christian calendar, the Resurrection. It’s the sign of our redemption by the Risen Lord, the promise of eternal life. Spring is here, the flowers and trees are blooming, and I’m eating chocolate again. What’s not to love?

But a few weeks ago, as Holy Week drew near, I was looking back instead of forward—back to Ash Wednesday and the words the priest spoke as he put ashes on my forehead: “Remember you are dust, and unto dust you will return.”

Dust is what I was contending with at the time, in a more mundane sense. It started with a pair of earrings that I wanted to wear but couldn’t, because one of them was missing a part.

My niece Megan gave me the earrings for Christmas: two round, glass stones of cobalt blue, each edged with silver and suspended from a silver loop. The loop on one earring had somehow become detached from the stone. Carefully I searched the top of my dresser, but it wasn’t there. I looked under the bed and the bookcase, on top of the night table and all over the floor. No loop, but—I blush to admit—a lot of dust. I got a broom and some paper towels and went to work. As I cleaned and put things in order, I thought about dust.

When the body of Jesus was removed from the cross, and Joseph of Arimathea took the body and brought it to his new, unused tomb, dust is what everyone expected the body of Jesus to return to. His life on earth was over; his body would go back to the earth as God had decreed for human beings after the sin of Adam and Eve: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Perhaps Mary, his mother, having listened to Jesus as he taught and knowing him better than anyone, suspected that there was more to the story. But surely Jesus’ followers were not expecting to see Jesus alive again. The Apostles and disciples saw his crucifixion and burial as the end. Whatever they had expected Jesus to do, whether they thought his kingdom would be earthly or heavenly—now it had vanished.

When we observe Good Friday, we know what is going to happen. When they lived through Good Friday, they didn’t. All they knew was that their hope was gone. It had died with Jesus on Calvary. All that remained was a tortured, lifeless body, soon to disintegrate into dust.

As I was cleaning, it occurred to me that dust is pretty mundane stuff, and it’s certainly not appreciated. It mars the appearance of a room. We want to be rid of it. Yet it’s dust that we are made of, and Easter reveals that while God formed us from so humble a substance, he gave us a dignity we could not have imagined. God the Son, divine but also fully human, is risen from the dead, his body transformed, and he promises his followers that if they keep faith with him, they, too, will rise and live with him forever.

Quite a destiny for creatures made of dust.

That’s what we celebrate at Easter: not only the Resurrection of Christ, but also his promise to us of eternal life with him. We celebrate the dignity he conferred on us and on every human being by his dying and rising for each one of us, out of love for each one of us. We celebrate the sacramental life of the Church he founded to bring himself to us and us to him.

When I had finished cleaning, I went into my living room and sat down in a comfortable chair to rest for a while. Some papers were lying on the floor, and I reached down to pick them up. There beside my right foot was the missing silver loop. How it got there, I will never know.

May your Easter season be filled with the joy and surprise and mystery and exhilaration of new life in Christ.

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