Faith: To dust you shall return

Pastor Tristan Borland talks about death, and how we don’t like to think about death or to even mention the word

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You are going to die.

I’m sure you know this, but have you really considered it? Have you stopped and thought about the fact that one day you will die?

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Your life will come to an end. And what’s even more sobering is that some people will be sitting at your funeral wondering what they are going to serve for dessert and hoping the preacher’s eulogy doesn’t go too long.

Life goes by quickly. Then it ends. And most people are soon forgotten.

I’m writing this column on Ash Wednesday. Today, at many churches, pastors and priests make the sign of the cross in ashes and declare the somber words from the book of Genesis, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”


These words remind us of our frailty and our mortality, but most of us would rather not think about such things.

Medieval monks used to greet each other in their monasteries with the simple expression, “Memento mori,” which literally means, “Remember your death.”

What a strange greeting! I think you should try this greeting the next time you’re at the grocery store and see what kind of reaction you get.

Maybe not. It’s far too bleak for our modern sensibilities.

It’s much easier just to ask, “How’s it going?” while not caring at all how things are really going. I’m just trying to get a gallon of milk and get out of here without really being bothered with how people are or being reminded of my imminent demise.

We don’t like to think about death or to even mention the word. Have you noticed how few people will say the words “death” or “died” or “dead”?

It’s more consoling to use euphemisms. Uncle Jim “passed away." Aunt Betty “went home to glory.” Euphemisms make us feel better.

It’s easier to imagine Aunt Betty in glory than to think about the process by which she arrived there.


Death is unsettling. It’s more comfortable not to think about it or talk about it.

But, death comes for us all in the end, whether we acknowledge it or not.

I know what you’re thinking. “Thanks for such an uplifting faith article this week, Tristan!” You’re welcome.

You may also be wondering what is the point of Ash Wednesday and this morbid reflection. I’ll conclude with two thoughts.

First, facing death should make us consider our lives. Our days are fleeting quickly.

Are we using them wisely? Are we taking time to do the things that really matter? Are we becoming the person we know we should be? Are we growing in wisdom and virtue? Are we loving well?

You may not be able to answer “yes” to all these questions. That’s OK. There’s no better time than today to start living the life we know we should live.

Finally, facing our inevitable death should make each of us consider the question of life after death. Is this life all there is, or is there life beyond this life?


This is one of the most important and mysterious questions of human existence. What we believe about this question will shape our lives here and now.

The Christian hope is that there is life after this life, and we ground this belief on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Ash Wednesday reminds us of our mortality and it leads us through Lent to Good Friday and the death of Jesus.

But, Lent ends with Easter and with hope.

Death comes for us all, but it is not the end of the story.

Tristan Borland is pastor at Riverview Church in Pine River.

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