Ash Wednesday is a good time to remember that what we see, as well as what we hear, is important in worship, and that the Gospel is conveyed by actions as well as by words.
Ash Wednesday, the seventh Wednesday before Easter, is the first day of Lent. Ash Wednesday comes from the ancient practice of placing ashes on worshipers’ foreheads as a sign of humility before God, a somber reflection on the depths from which we have been lifted. It reminds us that life is a gift from God to be cherished, and that we must one day give it up. We were made from dust and shall return to dust: “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
But that is not the end of our story! Ash Wednesday also reminds us that Easter is coming! Lent begins with the gloom of Ash Wednesday, but it ends with a mighty, world-shaking BOOM! With Easter!
The coming of Easter is reason for joy, even on Ash Wednesday! It seeks to prepare us anew to receive in our hearts the wondrous grace and forgiveness of God offered in Christ.
At the Ash Wednesday service, the ministers will use ashes to make a vertical line on the worshiper’s forehead. That line forms the pronoun “I.” It stands for the old sinful self that each of us once were.
Then they will make a horizontal mark across that vertical line to form a cross. The sinful self is crossed out! The ashes in the form of a cross remind us of the suffering of our Savior on the Cross. It is by Christ’s suffering that our sins and the sins of the whole world are canceled out! Apart from Christ we are nothing but ashes.
Ash Wednesday comes along reminding us that we live in a world of death and sin, but we are not abandoned here. The very sign of the cross on our foreheads prompts us to remember that we do not ultimately belong to a world of death and sin, but to a gracious and loving God. And that is reason for rejoicing!