Dust to dust
Genesis 3:14-19; 1 Corinthians 15:35-58
As a minister I have often stood beside the grave as they lower the coffin. It’s my job to say these famous words:
“earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”
Each phrase picks up on biblical imagery.
Adam was made from adamah meaning earth. And humanity is “dust and ashes” as Abraham would say (Genesis 18:27). But “dust to dust” is fairly much straight from Genesis 3:19. The LORD is pronouncing curses on sinful man and He concludes with:
For dust thou art and to dust shalt thou return.
At funerals people often want you to read quaint poems that airbrush out the stark reality of death. They’re full of sentiments about our loved ones not really going away and living on in our hearts, etc, etc.
I always liked Woody Allen’s line about living on in people’s memories. “I don’t want to live on in memories, I want to live on in my apartment.”
We want real, tangible, physical hope. But death puts pay to that. Violently. Uncaringly. Finally.
And so actually the Bible’s words are totally realistic. Dust we are, to dust we return.
It almost sounds like a modern cry of despair. Or of nonchalant nihilism. But it doesn’t come from a depressive or a cynic. This is the LORD who loves His creatures – man in particular. He’d only just given Adam the kiss of life.
But now, with Adam severed from the Life-Source, here comes the judgement: You are dirt, and you will crumble to dirt.
Have we understood the hopelessness of our plight? Left to itself our race is headed for the compost heap. No amount of saccharine sentiment can soothe away that reality. No amount of earthly achievements will reverse the curse it. The children of Adam cannot change their destiny because they cannot change their constitution.
If we are dust we can only expect to become dust. Those born of Adam have no right to expect any other future. We could have a future hope only if our fundamental constitution is changed. Only if we could come into another kind of humanity could we hope to come into another kind of destiny.
But that is exactly the Christian hope.
After I say “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust” the next words I say are these:
in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who will transform our frail bodies
that they may be conformed to his glorious body,
There is another kind of life that comes “through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The LORD Jesus was the One who pronounced the curse in Genesis 3. But it’s not His final word on human mortality. His plan was always to come and establish a different kind of humanity.
In Genesis 3:15 He had just promised His own birth into the human race. He would become the Last Adam. He would be the Man of heaven to answer the frailty and sin of the man of dust.
And in the fullness of time, He took our crumbling dust-to-dust-life and reunited it to the Life-Source in Himself. He took our humanity and, through death, planted it in the ground like a seed that dies and rises to produce many seeds (John 12:24). His new life from the dead is not dust-life but Spirit-life. And He gives it as a gift to all us crumbling dirt piles.
Dust to dust, yes. But in Jesus there’s also Spirit-life to spirit-life. And that’s our enduring hope:
The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit… The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.
(1 Corinthians 15:45-49)
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