Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What's on your face? It's Ash Wednesday.

Today is Ash Wednesday. Bill and I started our day early this morning so that we could attend the 6:30 am service at our church. About 35 others joined us as we received an ash cross on our forehead. Before I retired I would go to work on Ash Wednesday with my cross on my forehead.  People would tell me I had a smudge on my face and I needed to go check it in the mirror.  Or they would ask why I had it and what Ash Wednesday was all about.  Both questions gave me a chance to explain the sybolism and what Jesus did for us.

The ash cross reminds us of the great sacrifice that Jesus made for you and me. I don't understand why some Christian denominations don't celebrate the days leading up to Easter.  It doesn't make sense to me to remember His death and reserection but not the 40 days leading up to that day.  In the years that I’ve been a member of the Episcopal Church, I’ve come to understand more and more how Jesus sacrificed for us. I’ve realized how little I sacrifice for Him in return. Ash Wednesday is a day of  penitence where we prepare our heart, body and soul for adoration, reflection and devotion during the 40 days of Lent that lead up to Easter Sunday. By observing the 40 days of Lent, Christians replicate Jesus Christ's sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for 40 days.

Lent is marked by fasting, both from food and festivities.  I am fasting from things like Facebook that eat up my time for no purpose.  I plan to put that "found" time to work by increasing my Bible study and prayer time.  I plan to attend church services each week and to remember that it truly is more blessed to give that to recive.

I look forward to hearing what Ash Wednesday means to you.  Please post your comments here as I will not be reading Facebook for 40 days.

Since I found the information on the BBC  site easy to read, I returned there to find the explanation below of Ash Wednesday.

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent for Western Christian churches. It's a day of penitence to clean the soul before the Lent fast.

Roman Catholic, Anglican, and some other churches hold special services at which worshippers are marked with ashes as a symbol of death and sorrow for sin.

Ash Wednesday services

The service draws on the ancient Biblical traditions of covering one's head with ashes, wearing sackcloth, and fasting.

The mark of ashes

In Ash Wednesday services churchgoers are marked on the forehead with a cross of ashes as a sign of penitence and mortality.

The use of ashes, made by burning palm crosses from the previous Palm Sunday, is very symbolic.

The minister or priest marks each worshipper on the forehead, and says remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return, or a similar phrase based on God's sentence on Adam in Genesis 3:19.

Keeping the mark

At some churches the worshippers leave with the mark still on their forehead so that they carry the sign of the cross out into the world.

At other churches the service ends with the ashes being washed off as a sign that the participants have been cleansed of their sins.

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.


  1. That is very interesting, I never knew any of that. I've been a Christian for 40 yrs but never attended any church that gave place to these things. Actually, in talking to you, this is the first exposure I've had to Lent, except for that occasional old joke everyone hears at one time or another. I won't repeat it here, it seems irreverent and you know the one I mean. Thank you for writing it out as you did and for your observance, i also appreciate your transparency in sharing it with us.

  2. I got my ashes for the first time this year! Last year my sponsor and I did not go to the service where they used the ashes. My friend and I went to Walmart after the service to stock up on fish,and I was able to give a short witness to the lady in front of me while she was being rung up.


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