From Dust We Came, to Dust Return

Music by Scot Crandal • Text by Michael Joncas



From dust we came, to dust return: 
the end of life and breath. 
Fierce shadows drive us to our knees, 
these haunting dreams of death. 
We claim from Eden’s garden days 
until this time of choice 
to know both good and ill, yet still 
we heed the serpent’s voice. 

The good we will, we do not do; 
what we abhor, embrace. 
We clothe our shame, deny our guilt, 
and flee our Maker’s face. 
Yet there is One who did not sin, 
who triumphed through his trials: 
he broke the Tempter’s tangling snares 
and saved us from his wiles. 

For in God’s word Christ shares the bread 
that feeds our hung’ring souls, 
and walks with us, God’s Faithful One, 
the guardian of our goals, 
till by the love of Love alone 
he heals what sin has rent. 
O Jesus, come and give us life 
these blessed days of Lent.

Ash Wednesday, Lent

Two-part Choir, Descant, Keyboard, Guitar, Solo Instrument in C, Assembly


The Gospel reading for the First Sunday of Lent in all three years of the Lectionary recounts the narrative of Jesus’ temptation in the desert, but each with nuances from the particular synoptic Gospel proclaimed. In Year A, the Gospel of Matthew highlights the figure of Jesus as a righteous Jew, as one who can defeat the devil’s temptations by reliance upon the Word of God. The temptations themselves seem focused on challenging Jesus’ identity as the “Son of God.” The first two temptations suggest that Jesus’ status as God’s Son has to be confirmed by wonder-working. Ultimately, however, these temptations give way to the central issue: As God’s Son, will Jesus remain faithful to his Abba-God in a way surpassing that of the people of the [Sinai] Covenant, who had so repeatedly “served other gods”? “From Dust We Came, to Dust Return” highlights themes from each of the Scriptural proclamations for the First Sunday of Lent in Year A. 

Stanza 1 yokes the mythic image of the creation of the first human being from the clay of the earth and the breath of God in the Genesis account with the philosophical and psychological insight that we are animals who are aware of our own impending mortality—an insight that gives us a special kind of “being-in-the-world.” Our awareness of our fragility in the physical realm should give us some awareness of a corresponding fragility in the moral realm, but we sometimes blithely believe that we can escape the effects of original sin. The phrase “until this time of choice” refers directly to the season of Lent, both because the faithful and sinners are invited to deeper conversion and also because the First Sunday of Lent is designated as the preferred time for the “Rite of Election” for those catechumens who will be receiving the initiation sacraments at the Easter Vigil. The declaration that “we claim to know both good and ill” positions the singers as those who have metaphorically eaten of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but acknowledges that that knowledge has not protected them from choosing evil (heeding “the serpent’s voice”). 

Stanza 2 connects the Genesis image of the First Parents making loincloths to cover their nakedness with our experience of guilt and shame, directly quoting Romans 7:19, Paul’s great insight about the impotence of the human will without grace. This can be read as an extension of Paul’s argument presented in today’s Second Reading about the relationship of the law, sin, and death. The second half of the stanza forthrightly declares the climax of Paul’s argument there: that “those who receive the abundance of grace and the gift of justification [will] come to reign in life through Jesus Christ.” 

Stanza 3 then transforms the three paradigmatic examples by which Jesus confronts and breaks the power of the devil into three ongoing gifts of Christ to humanity, feeding us on the Word of God (i.e., on himself as the Incarnate Word, especially in the sacrament of the Eucharist), guarding us by grace from demonic arrogance, and empowering us to be single-hearted in our journey of faith. The hymn concludes with a prayer that the Christ who modeled for us a human life entirely loyal to his Abba will empower us to live in the same way. 

—Michael Joncas