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Ash Wednesday – ‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust, you shall return’

Posted: Wednesday, March 2, 2022. 1:53 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of the 40-day Lenten season which in Christianity precedes Easter.

In the Christian tradition, this is the amount of time Jesus of Nazareth spent quietly in the desert, preparing for his life of ministry.

Because of this, Ash Wednesday is traditionally a day of fasting, abstinence, and repentance, with many Christians abstaining from all but bread and water until sunset.

According to I News, Ash Wednesday takes its name from the Christian tradition of placing ashes on the foreheads of worshippers and reciting a vow of repentance.

Traditionally, clergy burn palm from the previous year’s Palm Sunday service to create the eponymous ash for the church ceremony. The ashes have biblical significance as a means of expressing grief, both in the sense of mourning and in expressing sorrow for sins and faults. From the earliest times, Christians have therefore used them as an external sign of repentance, with their use around the start of Lent established by the early medieval times.

Anglican Bishop Philip Wright told this reporter in 2018 (in a story for Channel 5 News) that it is an opportunity to start anew, forsaking things of the flesh for the service of God, and a reminder of human mortality: “When we do put the ashes on people’s foreheads, we do say the words, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” And I think what it is, is a reminder that between birth and death, we have a life to live. And God has called us to live that life to its fullest, and one of the ways we live that life to the fullest is by seeking a healthy relationship with God. And so Lent, every year gives the faithful an opportunity to do some introspection, some self-evaluation, and to really seek to improve their relationship with God so that they can live this life that God has called us to live. So, the ashes are a kind of a sober reminder: at the end of the day, this is what we are, and between now and when we return to the dust, God has called us to live the fullest life and to make a difference in the world.”

Its basis in the sacrifices made by Jesus means Lent is traditionally a period of abstinence, with many non-Christians still getting into the spirit of the season by giving up a particular treat. Throughout this time, those marking Lent will fast or give up certain luxuries, while others may go to church more often or say an extra prayer every day. Bishop Wright in 2018 gave us his view of that: “I think for me the more meaningful side of it is that you can give up meat and eat fish, or you can give up anything you want – but at the end of the day I believe the hope is that you are seeking to improve the quality of your relationship with God, which leads to the improvement of the relationship with other people, and hopefully, it all makes the world a better place.”

Anglican (and other Christian) churches and missions are holding multiple church services countrywide today (freed mostly from COVID-19 restrictions) and are offering “ashes to go” to penitent Christians.


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