Ash Wednesday

On the first day of Lent, pastors in many churches dip a finger in ashes (often made by burning palm branches from the previous year’s Palm Sunday) and make a cross on parishioners’ foreheads.

God’s people have used ashes as a sign of mourning, humiliation and penitence. In the Old Testament, ashes were used as a purification offering. The New Testament speaks of repenting in “sackcloth and ashes” (Luke 10:13, NRSV).

On Ash Wednesday, Christians are pained because our sins — private and public — led to Jesus’ death. With repentant hearts, we begin the season of Lent, knowing it leads to resurrection on Easter Sunday.

Why Ash Wednesday?

Traditionally, the Christian church has observed the seven weeks before Easter as a time of penitence and spiritual self-examination.

Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, derives its name from the ancient practice of marking the foreheads of worshipers with ashes from the unused palm branches of the previous year. Ashes historically have had a dual significance.

First, they are Old Testament symbols of sadness and humility. Job, in the midst of all his troubles, cried out to God from the ash heap.

The second symbolic meaning of ashes is as a reminder of our mortality. Each of us faces the inevitability of physical death. Our bodies and material possessions eventually will turn to dust and ashes. This is a reminder that we dare not trust in things that crumble. But Lent does not leave us on the ash heap. It begins with Ash Wednesday, but ends with Easter. And Easter proclaims that, through Christ, God resurrects us from our dust and ashes, makes us new creatures and brings life out of death!

Common Lutheran Ideas
Explanation provided in link.

For more information about Lutheranism, please see the ELCA website