Ash Wednesday marks the start of the Lenten season for Christians. Many Christians will participate in Ash Wednesday services. When arriving here at Antioch I asked several people who said that to their memory the church had never had an Ash Wednesday service. It was also a tradition that we started at the last church I served, and there were questions about Ash Wednesday. As folks would visit the office they noticed a small container of ashes setting on one of the side tables and people would ask me about them. It gave me the opportunity to share about the ashes and the tradition.
What are the ashes? The ashes are tied to Palm Sunday. The ashes are the burnt and charred remains of the previous year’s palm branches from the celebration of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem a week before his death.
Why do we use ashes? In scripture there are two main ideas. Ashes are a sign of mourning and repentance. One example would be Job after hearing multiple rounds of bad news about the loss of his children and fortune, went and sat in sackcloth and ashes. Ashes are a sign or recognition of our mortality and humanity. Abraham is reminded of his humanity in light of who God is, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.” One of the truest recognitions of our humanity is recognizing our mortality. When we understand that we are human and we will die, it puts us at a different place to see the value of Christ.
In modern traditions of Ash Wednesday believers would receive the ashes in the form of a cross on their foreheads, or hands and is known as the “Imposition of the Ashes.” The Imposition of Ashes serves as a visible sign to others, and a personal reminder to us of our mortality, mourning of the death of the one who died to give us life.
Ash Wednesday is about our mortality, his death, and our life in him. When we consider all that Christ did for us, I ask, is it really “such an imposition?”