This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season in the church. Lent is a time of reflecting on our own sin and the Savior who suffered and died in our place. This Lenten season begins on Ash Wednesday and continues for a period of 40 days (not counting Sundays) until Easter.

Photo of a man praying with ashes on his forehead

Ash Wednesday gets its name for the practice of imposing ashes. This practice happens in many congregations as a very meaningful part of the Ash Wednesday service. Putting ashes on oneself is a picture of humility and turning in repentance to the Lord. We read of ashes used as a sign of repentance throughout the Scriptures (Jonah 3:5-9Job 42:6Jeremiah 6:26Matthew 11:21).

The Significance of Ashes

First, ashes speak to us of the awful consequences of sin. The Lord spoke to Adam after the Fall, “Dust you are and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). When we speak of sin, human nature often leads us to think of the sins of others. The ashes on my forehead remind me it is my sin that led Jesus to the cross of Calvary.

Ashes also suggest cleansing and renewal. They were used anciently in the absence of soap. Even on Ash Wednesday, this most penitential day, we receive ashes in the form of the cross, the same symbol placed on our bodies with water in our baptism. Even in this ashen mark of death, we expect the new life of Easter.

Ashes remind us of the shortness of human life, as these words are said as we are buried into the ground “We commit this body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” The ashes on my forehead remind me of the ultimate consequence of sin, which is death.

Even in this season of Lent in which we remember our sin and earnestly seek forgiveness, we ultimately see the Savior who bled and died in our place.