Ash Wednesday Reflection

Symbolism of the ashes

The marking of their forehead with a cross made of ashes reminds each churchgoer that:
  • Death comes to everyone
  • They should be sad for their sins
  • They must change themselves for the better
  • God made the first human being by breathing life into dust, and without God, human beings are nothing more than dust and ashes

The shape of the mark and the words used are symbolic in other ways:

  • The cross is a reminder of the mark of the cross made at baptism
  • The phrase often used when the ashes are administered reminds Christians of the doctrine of original sin
  • The cross of ashes may symbolise the way Christ's sacrifice on the cross as atonement for sin replaces the Old Testament tradition of making burnt offerings to atone for sin

Where the ashes come from

The ashes used on Ash Wednesday are made by burning the palm crosses that were blessed on the previous Palm Sunday.

Ashes can also be bought from Church suppliers. A bag of ashes big enough for 1000 people costs around £8.

Ashes and oil

Priest blessing a row of oil dishes

The oil is blessed ©

The ash is sometimes mixed with anointing oil, which makes sure that the ashes make a good mark.

The use of anointing oil also reminds the churchgoer of God's blessings and of the anointing that took place at their baptism.

From Palm Sunday to Ash Wednesday

Palm Sunday celebrates Jesus's triumphant entry into Jerusalem, so when the crosses used in the Palm Sunday service are converted to ashes, the worshippers are reminded that defeat and crucifixion swiftly followed triumph.

But using the ashes to mark the cross on the believer's forehead symbolises that through Christ's death and resurrection, all Christians can be free from sin.

So, I have been thinking and thinking and thinking, and wondering, what, if anything, I am able and willing to give up for Lent. It's supposed to be a season of reflection and meditation. So, instead of giving something up, I think I am going to focus on the reflection and meditation part. I'm going to (re)start/give myself something rather than deprive myself of something.

Yes, I suppose to some, this means that I am an inherently selfish person who likes her meat, fish, and chocolate. Among other things. And recent circumstances have made it so that I don't get much of these things anyway. Except for the chocolate. People seem to know when I need and it and it just appears. The pastor this past Sunday (2/10) made a joke about another pastor having the "gift of receiving" ... I guess I have the gift of receiving chocolate :) So, onto the reflecting. Soul-searching is so damn painful. I think that's why I usually avoid it in the first place.

Psalm 139

7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence? ...

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.

24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

More on Lent