Many receive a cross of ashes on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday, an ancient symbol of our humanity.
Many receive a cross of ashes on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday, an ancient symbol of our humanity. -- A file photo by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications

Why ashes? Connecting to who we are and who we can be

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Repent, and believe the gospel.”

Many Eastern PA Conference churches will welcome worshippers for Ash Wednesday service Feb. 10—most in their sanctuaries but some in public spaces beyond their church doors–to signify the beginning of Lent, a season of sacrifice and sacred commitment to follow and focus on Christ above all else.

A solemn highlight of their worship will be the symbolic imposition of ashes. Using their thumbs to make the sign of the cross, pastors and other celebrants will apply the dingy, flaky gray residue of burnt palms or other plants to the waiting foreheads of worshippers who submit themselves to this tactile ritual. They will utter some meaningful words to send the marked disciple into the world bearing the visible message of their humble submission.

So what is said, and what is meant by this time-honored religious practice? UM News Service writer Joe Iovino interprets for us the words spoken and the important meaning of Ash Wednesday.

“When we participate in the service of ashes, we confront our sin,” he writes. “We recognize our inability to live up to all God has created us to be, and our need to be forgiven. No matter how often we go to church, how far we have come in our spiritual journeys, how accomplished we may feel, each of us has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

“Receiving the imposition of ashes is a powerful way to confront our humanity and mortality.” Learn more…

Also be sure to read Bishop Peggy Johnson’s new Lenten essay, “House Cleaning, Heart Cleansing,” written for NEWSpirit. Reflecting on Robert Boyd Munger’s book My Heart-Christ’s Home, she advises us to clear and recycle the refuse and clutter from our spiritual closets and to seek the cleanliness that is surely next to godliness. Learn more…

Please tell us how your church is celebrating Ash Wednesday and Lent. Public services and imposition of ashes? Special midweek prayer or worship services? Themed Bible studies or group study of a timely book or curriculum? A churchwide fast or another Lenten challenge? A hands-on mission project or donations to support deserving local or global ministries?

Tell us what your church is doing, and send us photos if you can. Help us help others see the big picture of how Christians in our conference celebrate Lent in communion with one another.

By John W. Coleman
Eastern PA Conference Communications Director


Learn more about Lent at umc.org

Denominational Website www.umc.org offers articles with ideas, stories and resources to help you prepare for the six-week season of Lent. Features include: ” Beyond fasting: 10 tips for a more meaningful Lent,” where you can find links to other articles as well; ” 40 Days of Lent: Find your own spiritual path“; ” Lent: A Time to Fast and Pray“;  the popular ” Lent Quiz: Test your knowledge of the season” and   “FAQs: Lent & Easter,”   which answers questions like “Why do we observe Lent before Easter?” and “Why do people give up sweets or caffeine for Lent?”