The meaning of Ashes and Lent

Ashes and the season of Lent have been a practice and tradition of the church at large. This has not only been a practice of the Catholic church, but also by the large reformed Christian church. In this blog I will answer the following questions, What is the season of Lent? What is Ash Wednesday? and What is the meaning of the ashes, and giving up something for lent?

Early in the Church’s history, the major events in Jesus’ life were observed with special practices, such as His birth, baptism, death, resurrection, and ascension. As these practices developed, a period of time was set aside prior to the major events of Jesus’ birth and resurrection as a time of preparation. Advent was the period set aside prior to Jesus’ birth and Lent was the period of time set aside to prepare ourselves for Jesus’ resurrection – Easter. It is important to remember that these practices are not in the Bible, but that they were created by the church in order to help God’s people fix their eyes on Jesus.

What is lent? Lent is a 40 day season (excluding the 6 Sundays which are in Lent and not of it) where we get a chance to examine our hearts – to repent – before celebrating Jesus’ resurrection. Just as rain fell on Noah, and as the children of Israel wandered in the desert, and as Jesus fasted and was tempted in the desert, so during the 40 days in lent God’s people contemplate the cross, fixing their eyes on a savior who bore the sin of the world. We remember that without a savior sin marks us, we cannot wash it away, but we are new in Christ. Lent concludes on the Saturday of Holy Week or the Saturday before Easter Sunday.

What is Ash Wednesday? Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of lent, as the pastor uses ashes to make the sign of the cross on each believer’s forehead. Where do the ashes come from? The ashes are usually derived from the burned palms from the previous Palm Sunday. But today, churches can buy ashes from church supply stores.

What is the meaning of ashes? This is an ancient act that is recorded in the Bible as a gesture of mourning and repentance. Dusting oneself with ashes was the penitent’s way of expressing sorrow for sins and faults. An ancient example of one expressing one’s penitence is found in Job 42:3–6. Job says to God: “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Ashes can symbolize dust-to-dust and remind believers of the need for cleansing, scrubbing, and purifying.

Should Christians give up something for lent? As this season of Lent approaches, many of us think about something to “give up.” Some Christians give up chocolate or soda for lent as a way of remembering and personalizing the great sacrifice that Christ made on the cross for our sins. The truth is that we can never personalize the great sacrifice that Christ made on the cross for our sins. Nothing we can do can compare to what Jesus suffered on the cross. Giving up something for lent often has little impact upon our life and walk with Jesus. But there are things worth giving up, not only during the season of lent but for the rest of your life. Here are a few things we can give up: blame, guilt, comfort zone, anger, jealousy, and distraction. What are some other things you think we can give up, not only during lent, but every day?

This is a little bit of history about the season of Lent, Ash Wednesday, and giving up something for lent. It’s ok if you or your church do not celebrate Ash Wednesday and lent. If that is the case, and if you are in the area, I want to invite you to worship with us. Click here for more details.

I hope to see you there!

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  1. Margaret E. Ives on March 1, 2022 at 7:15 pm

    Pastor Dan, many thanks for your detailed information.
    I’m grateful for the amount of time and effort you put into this helping us.
    Many blessings to you and your family.

    Margaret E.Ives