Ash Wednesday is the official start of the season of Lent, six and a half weeks in total, consisting of 40 weekdays as an act of repentance prior to Easter or Resurrection Sunday. The institution of the day, or the season, is not in your Bible. It was set up by the early church to provide some structure in how to think about and prepare for Resurrection Sunday.
It was first observed in the 7th century. Ash Wednesday served as an invitation for certain people to publicly begin a season of penance. This specific practice then fell into disuse and was re-instituted in the 10th-ish century but opened to the general congregation rather than “certain people”.
As a part of the ceremony, the repentant, which is you, were marked with ashes as an outward symbol of an inward disposition of the heart; that is, a heart that loves God and one that mourns their sins. Back in the days when the Old Testament was written, people used to dump ashes on their heads as a sign of sin, either that they had committed, or had been committed against them.
Ashes were a symbol of mourning in ancient culture, and often accompanied by
sackcloth (think wearing an itchy burlap shirt) and fasting. One did this to be physically miserable as a reminder that they needed communion with God more than they needed physical comfort and secondly to show everyone how miserable they were.
You wouldn’t tell a joke to a person in mourning. In fact, you would probably go out of your way to avoid such a person. Wearing ashes show that we care about sin and brokenness and we recognize that our sins separate us from God.
Over the course of Lent, I am going to be preaching on the “Seven Deadly Sins”. Perhaps, if we can increase our understanding of sin then we will be more likely not to commit them.
Blessings, Rev. Fred