Every year on Ash Wednesday, Christians all over the world have our faces marked with ashes, with a reminder that we are dust and to dust we will return. Where does this come from?
In the Scriptures, we find stories of people marking themselves with ashes as a sign of penitence, humility or grief. See, for example, Jonah 3:5–9, Job 42:6, Jeremiah 6:26 and Matthew 11:21.
As far back as the third century, people who had fallen into sin and wanted to be reconciled with God and the community went through a penitential rite that began with a mark of ashes on the forehead on the first Sunday of Lent. On Maundy Thursday, they would be solemnly and joyfully welcomed back into full fellowship with the community.
Sympathetic friends and relatives would often present themselves for ashes alongside the repentant sinner, and before long almost everyone in the congregation received ashes on the first Sunday of Lent.
Throughout history, Lent has been a time for spiritual renewal in anticipation of the great feast of Easter, the center of the church’s year. How do you keep Lent?
This message is an excerpt from a free Women of the ELCA free resource, “Lent: Penitence, Pilgrimage, Preparation,” available for download. Today we remember George Herbert, hymn writer, who died in 1633. Today begins Women’s History Month. It is also Ash Wednesday. The readings are Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; Isaiah 58:1-12 (alternate); Psalm 51:1-17; 2 Corinthians 5:20b—6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21.