What is Ash Wednesday?

Perhaps you’ve noticed people with dark smudges or crosses on their foreheads today.

If so, you may be wondering what it means.

Today is Ash Wednesday. It marks the start of Lent, a period in the church calendar leading up to Easter in which there is a focus on repentance and fasting.  Lent starts 46 days before Easter. However, the six Sundays during this time are not counted, leaving 40 days for Lent. This 40-day period is reminiscent of the forty days Jesus spent in the Wilderness prior to beginning his public ministry (see Matthew 4:1-2).

Ash Wednesday has been celebrated in some form since the New Testament times, and was officially added to the church calendar in 325 BC by the First Council of Nicea. While it is mainly thought of as a Catholic tradition, there are many other denominations that also observe Ash Wednesday.

The ashes placed on peoples’ foreheads symbolize penance, mourning and the mortality that resulted from the sin that entered the world through Adam (Genesis 3). The ashes are applied to a person’s head with the words “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return (Genesis 3:19) or the remedy for the fall: “Turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15).

As followers of Christ, our lives are centered in the gospel, which brings salvation and is of first importance (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). However, Lent is an appropriate time to reflect on the price Jesus paid for the gospel. We read from Isaiah that

3 He was despised and rejected by men,
    a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;

and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4 Surely, he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;

yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way; (Isaiah 53:3-6)

We invite you to respond to Christ’s suffering in prayer…

Lord, it is with deep sorrow that we acknowledge that we have indeed despised, ignored and rejected you, and gone our own way. It is our sin that has grieved you O Lord. It is because of our iniquity laid on you that you were chastised, pierced, and crushed. You have born our grief, carried our sorrow, and brought us peace and given us healing.

The price you paid is beyond imagining. It is with humble, contrite and repentant hearts that we thank you, Lord Jesus.

Each Wednesday in this season of Lent we plan to share reflections on Scriptures related to Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. We hope you’ll join us.

What is Ash Wednesday?

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