“Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return,” says the priest as he smears last year’s palms on my forehead.

Since this was my first year where people would actually see me with a cross on my head (we went to the noon service), I was pondering how to explain what Ash Wednesday is.  It’s not a religious holiday, per se, in the same way that Easter and Christmas are.  Those celebrate specific events in the life of our Lord.  Ash Wednesday, however, was created by the Church when it decided that we needed a time of penitence and preparation leading up to the grand celebration of Easter (my friend Christina has an AMAZING post on this theme here).

But still, why the ashes?  I’m sure there are plenty of explanations, but this year I liked the one found in our church bulletin.  Ash and dust have always been a reminder that we are made of dust and destined to return to it (Genesis 3:19).  As we approach Easter, we remember that Easter – Christ’s resurrection! –  allows this frail dust to live forever.


English: Ashes imposed on the forehead of a Ch...

Image via Wikipedia

Walking around with a cross of ashes on my head, I felt a little self-conscious and a little proud.

It opened up four conversations.  Nothing profound, but a small door.  My Lord is important to me, and I’m not ashamed to explain it or to wear His symbol.

I enjoyed the feeling of being “marked” as a Christian, and feeling a measure of camaraderie with the other people so marked.  For one afternoon, our faith was literally written on our foreheads.  Today, we return to being marked by our actions and our words.  Lord, let mine show you!




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3 responses to “Dust

  1. Greg

    I was mulling over the reason for ashes, too, but forgot to bring it up with you. The Old Testament gives a number of examples of people (both Israelites and other peoples) covering themselves with ashes and sackcloth to indicate great suffering or, more often, repentance, and I can understand the visual imagery of making oneself dirty and unkempt to show lowness, as well as the reminder about being taken from dust (which might’ve only been pertinent to the Israelites – not sure about other folks). It also occurred to me that ashes might have been associated with burnt offerings. Covering yourself with the remnants of your sacrifices for sin would seem to make a very natural association with repentance.

  2. Pingback: What’s that smudge on your forehead? | χορος χαριτος: A Danse of Grace

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