From Dust ‘Til Dawn – Emily Meyer retraces the Lenten journey – from cosmic stardust to the dusty road to Emmaus – and invites us to wonder, learn, root, and go, stepping out gently to bless the earth.
Care for Creation Commentary on the Revised Common Lectionary
Readings for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year A (2023, 2026)
Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
1 Peter 1:17-23
Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Holy One is coming, it is near… (Joel 2:1; Ash Wednesday)
YAHWEH God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. (Genesis 2:15; 1 Lent)
Now YAHWEH said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1; 2 Lent)
From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as YAHWEH commanded. (Exodus 17:1; 3 Lent)
YAHWEH said to Samuel, “… Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite….” (1 Samuel 16:1; 4 Lent)
The hand of YAHWEH came upon me; God’s spirit brought me out and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. (Ezekiel 37:1; 5 Lent)
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples… (Matthew 21:1; Palm Sunday)
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. (John 20:1; Easter)
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19; Easter 2)
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem… (Luke 24:13; Easter 3)
The first verse of the Hebrew text for every week in Lent – and then the first verse of the Gospel reading for Palm Sunday through today – sets its story in a very particular place: grounding God’s people in a specific land or location – and alternately imploring them to literally dig in, root, and grow there, or calling and anointing them to ‘go’. Given the journey theme of Lent, this is not remarkable or surprising. What I lift up today is the land itself and our human need to be connected to the soil of a place.
Ash Wednesday, some of us may have incorporated the idea of stardust into our imposition of ashes. This trend invites us to look beyond this earth, to wonder about the enormity and wonder of the cosmos, to ‘lift up our eyes’ in such a way that we cannot mistake the hand of God in the glory of the cosmos – and therefore in our own wondrous makeup.
In the ashes/dust of Ash Wednesday we remember both our mortality and our longevity – whether dust of the earth or stardust, returning to dust means returning to oneness with the entirety of creation. The fact that science now confirms this spiritual truth only lends credence to its holy wisdom. We also bow our heads in humility, approaching the Divine in awe and penitence.
At 11:15 last night, my 81 year-old mother and I learned that the Northern Lights were visible overhead. We dashed outside in our pajamas. They weren’t the google-image photo display or CGI-splendor caught on film; we made no attempt to capture them, confident no photo could do them justice. They were subtle – and yet, I immediately thought, “This is why people believe there are angels. This is why ‘heaven’ is described as having streets of gold and a radiant throne.” The lights were a dim but urgent undulation of pale, cosmic green – almost white; cloud-like and filmy – but pulsing and wafting and flowing through the heavens; racing sporadically from west to east then east to west across the whole vast expanse of starlit sky. We viewed it through the upper branches of spruce and pine. It was a moment to treasure, my mom and I, in the middle of the night, freezing, and seeing this sight that so few other humans get to see.
Just the night before, in our Wednesday Lenten gathering, we had talked about how fragile so many of us have become: we are swallowed up in despair, depression, anxiety, stress, confusion, doubt, trauma – the list is lengthy. We wondered if our lack of connection to the cosmic – blocked out by city lights and the need to sleep inside solid structures and the fear of going out in the dark – hasn’t deprived us of an essential gift, tool, and vaccine for woe. Wonder, awe, amazement – even the simple awareness of and chance to view a full and glorious night sky – aurora borealis or not – allow us to grow in the awareness that we are, by virtue of our biology and creation, part of an astounding reality.
Laura Alary picks up on this in Here: The Dot We Call Home (Paraclete, 2022), in which a child’s wonder broadens her perspective on home, neighbor and connection – which leads her to expand her sense of home outward, eventually, to include the entire planet. And though, “overwhelmed by the mess that humans have left behind”, her newly developed sense of wonder and connection lead her to determine that the only thing she can do is “start where she is”.
Without wonder, we lose our sense of belonging to something profound, beyond our small self. Without awe, it is hard to develop humility. Without humility, hubris takes over. And hubris, our ego, is a very, very fragile thing.
adrienne maree brown wrote extensively and prolifically on this in their year-long blog for Yes! Magazine. ‘Murmurations’ includes numerous worthy reads. “Returning to the Whole” states that, “To heal ourselves, we must remember that we are a small part of a much greater whole.” (Yes! Magazine; 06.29.22).
Hummus, humans, humility: we are dust and to dust we shall return.
Yet, if humility is an antidote to despair, awe is not God’s only gift.
From ashes to mud to dust: our Lenten journey alternately grounded us in place and urged us out into the world. These texts take us back to and trace the arc from our origins as stardust – and the soil of this planet, lighting on dirt and water to open our eyes, then touching down on the dusty road to Emmaus. Along the way the bonding agent of oil – of anointing – returns again and again. The fruit of the earth blesses us to go, blesses us to lead, blesses us to see with new eyes, blesses us to live a New Life.
Grounding in place cannot become a crutch, an everlasting refuge from reality, a quagmire of apathy. We have to get out there, out on a trail, a path, any walkway available. We need to wander through the earth to learn it and learn from it. We need to be in and with creation for our own healing, and to discover how we can participate in creation’s self-healing.
adrienne marie brown’s separate article, “How the Wonder of Nature Can Inspire Social Justice Activism”, reveals how, “The complex systems of the natural world can open our eyes to a new way of being”. (Yes! Magazine; 02.01.18)
“Participating with” the “complex system” is a key element. Every step of the road to Emmaus is a point of connection, returning the disciples to their place of origin – both in the going out and in the returning: the disciples connecting with one another in their grief; the Risen Christ connecting the disciples to their own story, to scripture, to the Resurrected One, and to their beloved community of fellow followers of The Way.
It’s what binds us together that gives us life. From the molecular to the cosmic, connection – some kind of binding agent – is essential.
This has been a parallel arc in our Lenten journey, drawing us toward Christ’s New Life: Isaiah 58 (Ash Wednesday) reprimanded us for fasts that divide and commended to us fasts “to humble oneself,” “break every yoke,” and “share your bread” (Isaiah 58:5-7); 1 Lent in the Garden, the soil of which we were originally commissioned to “till and keep;” and again in 4 Lent with the healing of the person born blind – through the combination of dirt and spittle, washed with water from the pool of Siloam (Sent/anointed); and finally, now, at Emmaus, in the breaking of the bread – powdery wheat flour bonded with oil and water – New Life is brought to its fullness in the community of journey and conversation and meal.
Buff Grace, Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light’s Director of Faith Networks, joined me for The Ministry Lab’s first-ever Commentary Conversation. Buff began our ~45 minute discussion with a disclaimer that novice creation care preachers may want to stick to a more concretely illustrative set of texts for Earth Day sermons. This year’s assigned texts are a bit of a “heavy lift” for preachers – and/or congregations – new to creation-centered preaching. He offers a few alternate suggestions; you can access the whole conversation here.
Within the story of the road to Emmaus, though, Buff is reminded of Jesus’ self-identification with bread, wine, grapes, and oil. His fascinating insight that these were the most essential commodities, i.e., central economic elements of Jesus’ time, was new to me; I’m still grappling with it.
It speaks to this theme of basic, essential elements – dust/soil, water, and oil/breath – being part and parcel of our journey; healing, sustaining, and bringing us together; opening our eyes in wondrous ways to perceive the risen Christ.
There’s something to be said about New Life showing up on a dusty road.
We are blessed to share and steward a small portion of lakeshore in Minnesota’s Northwoods. In my earliest years, the road was a two-rut track. This eventually widened to a gravel road. In 2010 family members were pit against family members and neighbors against neighbors when the county decided to pave it. Our little gravel drive is now a two-lane tar county highway.
The day before demolition began, I invited my neighbors to walk the gravel road one last time. Only two joined me, and each of them separately and on their own. I walked the road alone – barefoot, placing one foot directly in front of the other for five-and-a-half miles. It was prayer – beseeching the road to bless my feet as my feet blessed the road. I wept a bit, but mostly I expressed my gratitude and my grief; I looked for grace in the flora and fauna; I asked for forgiveness for myself and all those who did not know what they were doing. I grounded to this place: I learned this place by looking more deeply and I let this place learn me more fully.
Activist, author, scholar, and Cherokee descendant, Randy Woodley, (Keetoowah Band) offers “meditations and ideas for reflection and action” in Becoming Rooted: One Hundred Days of Reconnecting with Sacred Earth (Broadleaf; 2022), an opportunity to “get in touch with the water, land, plants, and creatures around us.” And, like Alary’s “Here”, it encourages growing in relationship with, “the people who lived on that land for thousands of years prior to Europeans’ arrival, and with ourselves. In walking toward the harmony way, we honor balance, wholeness, and connection.”
The road to Emmaus – dusty and familiar – brought two disciples from grief into healing, from despair into new awareness, from loss into a new relationship with the Risen Christ, and with that new awareness, into a renewed connection to their true community of followers of The Way.
As much as our eyes are meant to lift to the skies in wonder, our feet are meant to trod the ground with grace, rooting us to place, grounding us in God’s goodness and presence in our particular here and now; connecting us with creation and one another. This is the fulfillment of the Lenten journey: New Life springing from the soil of our grounding place; New Life flowing through connections in community; New Life bubbling up within us – anointing us – to step out, again, to bless the earth.
Originally written by Rev. Emily P.L. Meyer (firstname.lastname@example.org) in 2023; first appearing in Green Blades Rising Preacher’s Roundtable. Find more from Emily Meyer at www.theministrylab.org.