I was raised in a Southern Baptist church. As such, we did not (at least I have no memory of it) participate in Ash Wednesday services. My reading this morning in Mornings With Jesus 2017 is on this subject, and I love the explanation of it. We are forever marked by the Cross.
One cool evening I sat by a campfire as flames flickered and died. Embers glowed a while longer, then logs turned to charcoal and collapsed into gray dust. The warmth and life inside the fire ring was gone. The fire was temporary, and when its time ended, it left behind only ashes.
Ash Wednesday is a day to repent “in dust and ashes”. But why are ashes a symbol of penitent prayer? Ashes remind us that we all face death. Like the campfire, we may shine brightly for a time, but one day our bodies will return to dust.
Even while we confront our mortality, we also think about another kind of death. Our old natures have been crucified with Christ. Jesus calls us to die to ourselves and to live in Him. That’s a joyful sort of death. We relinquish our unhealthy ways and the destruction they cause, we surrender our selfish desires, and we watch the embers of that old life crumble into ash. Then we respond anew to Jesus’s offer to live in us. He breathes into us the immortal flame of eternal life, redeemed natures, and the promise of a new body. When we attend services on Ash Wednesday and receive ashes on our forehead, we celebrate with the tangible reminder that we are forever marked by the Cross.
In The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” And in the beautiful, upside-down world of the Gospel, that is where we find life. The fragile and temporary nature of our mortal lives no longer causes us fear because Jesus has promised us life everlasting with Him.