The Lenten season begins on Ash Wednesday. It is common that on this date and throughout this liturgical period, Christians receive on their foreheads the sign of the cross made with ashes, and that they are reminded of the importance of repentance, conversion and of humility. This practice, it should be noted, does not appear in the Book of Common Prayer, nor in the LOC of the Free Church of England, and only began to introduce itself to Anglicanism in the mid-twentieth century.
Throughout Scripture, “ashes” refer to each of these ideas. When people were repentant, or overwhelmed by deep sorrow (because of the loss of a loved one, for example), they used to dress in sackcloth and cover themselves with dust and ash.
Before anything else, ashes tell us of our own finitude. And what are ashes? Only dust! When fire consumes something, only dust remains. Powder and ashes testify how much life is illusory, fleeting and fragile. The only certainty is that of Genesis 2: 7, “Thou art dust and in dust thou shalt be made again.”
Lent can be understood as a look at this inevitable but constantly neglected certainty. In the illusion that we will still have tomorrow to enjoy, the ashes remind us of what we are, dust and ashes.
But it is also an invitation to hope. When Lent ends, the dark nights of Paschal Time come upon us, some days later to be overcome on the morning of the Lord’s Day, the Resurrection Sunday. However, in order to reach Easter victory, I must walk forty days through the wilderness of contrition and repentance.
Rev. Marcelo Lemos, presbyter.
Oásis Church. South American Diocese, Brazil.