What exactly is “Ash Wednesday”? Where does it come from? It’s not in the Bible, obviously. But some of its ideas are. Ash Wednesday has its origins in the early Christian Church – somewhere between the sixth and eight centuries. Originally, the idea was that a Christian, as a sign of repentance, would sprinkle ashes on his or her head.
In the Bible, ashes were always associated with humility and mortality, fasting and remorse. If you had sinned against God, and you felt remorse about that sin, and you were repenting of that sin, then sometimes, in the Bible, you would sprinkle ashes on your head as a sign of sorrow and repentance. Ashes were supposed to remind you that you were mortal, that you will eventually become ashes after you die. We’re only ashes, and we need to repent of our sins now while God gives us a time of grace.
During 6th or 7th centuries, Christian churches thought about this idea. People, in private, at times, would sprinkle ashes on themselves as a sign of repentance. Eventually, this became a public practice. Instead of sprinkling the ashes on your head, the ashes would be rubbed onto the forehead in the shape of a cross. It was a sign of repentance, and a reminder of your baptism, when the sign of the cross was placed on you with water and the Word. The ashes would actually be taken from the palm branches from Palm Sunday, burned the year before.
As Christians we move through a liturgical year that is patterned after Christ’s life. For the next 40 days (excepting Sundays) we anticipate the celebration of the death and resurrection of Christ. We call this time Lent. It is a season of spiritual discipline and preparation.
View our Ash Wednesday devotional here.