A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Why Ashes for Ash Wednesday?

[Picture above are some of the people in our church who helped lead one of our three Ash Wednesday services at Lancaster First UMC this past week. Before the service, we practiced placing the ashes in the form of a cross. These are some of the best looking crosses I have seen in a long time!]

During the Ash Wednesday service I was leading last week, someone asked me about the theological meaning of the ashes. I explained that ashes are comparable to dust. The creation story in the Book of Genesis reminds us that we were created out of dust. God was able to create new life out of the dust of the ground.

The sobering part in all of this is that since we are dust, we will one day die and return to the dust. These are words that we hear during a graveside service for a loved one. I know that this isn't something we enjoy hearing but Ash Wednesday is a powerful way to help us remember that life is short and to keep things in perspective.

The good news in all of this is that because Jesus defeated sin and death through though the cross and the empty tomb, we too are given the promise that one day we will be given new bodies.

It sounds too good to be true, right? 

I know that the whole thought that one day God will raise us to new life and give us new bodies that will never experience death again sounds totally crazy. It sounds too good to be true, right? According to our faith, this is what we believe. The Apostles' Creed, which the early church established in the early centuries states, "I believe in...the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting."

To sum up, we put ashes on our forehead on Ash Wednesday to remind us that even though we are dust, the cross and the resurrection of Christ offer us new life as well. This is why it's important that the ashes are placed in the form of a cross and not just smeared on our foreheads. The symbol of the cross reminds us that God can once again bring life out of death. What a wonderful way to begin the season of Lent!

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