What is Ash Wednesday? I grew up going to church and had memories of people talking about giving up something for Lent, but I had never heard of Ash Wednesday until my last move when I joined my present church.
The Ash Wednesday service serves as a reminder to the congregation that we came from dust and that we will return to dust. This message is personally delivered to each participant as they kneel at the altar while the pastor or priest places a cross of ashes on his or her forehead with his finger.
The Ash Wednesday service also serves to remind us of our need for repentance of our sins to receive God’s forgiveness. An Ash Wednesday service typically includes communion following the imposition of the ashes.
The Ash Wednesday service takes place on the first day of Lent or 40 days Before Easter. The first day of Lent this year falls on March 1, 2017.
I have mixed feelings about this practice. I love the message that it brings and feel the need to absorb it fully every year. I am not ashamed to be seen wearing the cross on my forehead following the service; however, I have problems with wearing it as a badge to show how holy I might be (or not). I feel that for me, the place I need to be following an Ash Wednesday service is at home in a period of reflection with my Lord. But many see this as an opportunity to share their faith as people ask why they have a cross of ashes on their foreheads.
I post this article about Ash Wednesday to inform, not to instruct. I don’t believe anyone’s salvation is sealed by whether or not they participate in an Ash Wednesday service. But I especially want parents to know what the ashes represent so if they are with their children and they see people with crosses of ashes on their foreheads they can explain what it is about. This is not a sign of a mysterious cult. Churches of many denominations practice this tradition.
Father God, we thank you for your gift of your Son. May we never take it for granted. Prepare our hearts to know you fully. Help us to be aware of the shameful areas in our lives that still demand repentance and help us to turn away from them so we can serve you wholeheartedly.
To learn more about Ash Wednesday services, read Ashes to Ashes as it appeared in the February 9, 2010 issue of Christianity Today.