"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
The first step to getting clean is recognizing how dirty we are.
A prince hides among sheep. A place of honor exchanged for rank among a putrid herd. Their bleats cannot mask the screams of a guilty conscience. Their matted, tick infested wool and splintering hooves cannot bleach the memory of that crimson stone on wet soil. The blood is on his hands. He is dirty.
"Take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground."
Taking off his sandals, he plants his feet in the arid dirt, breathlessly lured towards the flames. His sweaty soles picking up dust, turning his toes and his heel a charred black mess.
We love to be clean. Most of us shower daily, some of us even twice. A white shirt with a small stain isn't "mostly clean," but soiled. Mothers groan when elated children play in the fresh spring lawn in their new socks.
The moment of Moses's repentance, however, was a dusty and dirty episode. With filthy toes, he turned to the manifest presence of God. Soiled and filthy, he cowered in front of the Shekinah Glory and was set on a path to deliver God's people: A path that would cost him forty years in the desert.
We have prepared for our forty days with filthy bodies. We gather together at the start of our journey into lent by putting ashes on our foreheads and remembering our mortality. It is this way that we prepare to be spiritual sojourners through our liturgical fast. We begin lent by remembering how dirty we are.
And it's true that discipleship is a dirty calling. The Church is a messy place, an assembly of sinners. Some come with broken families. Some come who have been abused. Some come who do the abusing. Some come with sexual sin. Some come with addictions. Most come with pride. And most come with clean shirts and well pressed pants. Despite our filth, we put on a Sunday best. But Ash Wednesday and Lent are not about a Sunday best.
This lent, let us allow ourselves to recognize our dirt. Let us remember that we are from dust, and to dust we shall return. Let us turn to the God who sees us, who fills the earth and makes all ground holy. And let us fast as our savior did for forty days: The savior who washes dirty feet.