Today is the beginning of Lent, the 40 weekdays preceding Easter and a season of introspection, self examination and repentance. But what’s up with the ashes? I did a quick search of the Bible to the places where people “put on ashes.” I found some interesting snapshots.
2 Samuel 13
- This passage tells the horrific story of Tamar. She put on ashes after the abuse of her brother and the shame he forced her to carry.
- Mordecai, Esther’s uncle, rips his clothes and puts on ashes when he hears a date has been set for the genocide of his people – the Israelites.
- After losing everything dear to him, Job sat among the ashes in his pain and grief scraping his wounds with broken pottery.
- God commands the people through the prophet Jeremiah to put on ashes and prepare for His judgement of their wickedness.
- Daniel put on ashes to confess their sins, intercede on behalf of the people and call on God to extend grace though they deserved punishment.
The ashes are a symbol of the stench of man’s sinfulness and the pain that it inflicts. They are also “a sign of humility before God, a symbol of mourning and sorrow at the death that sin brings into the world. It not only prefigures the mourning at the death of Jesus, but also places the worshipper in a position to realize the consequences of sin.” 1
The “putting on of ashes” is not a Catholic thing. It is not an emergent thing. It is not a pagan thing. It is a Christian thing. “Ash Wednesday is a somber day of reflection on what needs to change in our lives if we are to be fully Christian.” 2