The use of ashes as we will use them today has a tradition nearly 1800 years old going back to the early church where ashes and sackcloth were part of the forgiveness process.
The medieval church had a way of bringing those who had strayed away from the church back into line. They were simply not allowed to attend the church until they had repented. Since everyone attended church to not attend church was unacceptable. Because they were not in church the person became an outcaste and was shunned by the community.
Part of the repentance process was to show up for the Ash Wednesday service. They would be dressed in sackcloth and have ashes sprinkled on their heads. During this process they let it be know publicly that they wished their sins forgiven and to be admitted back into the community. Their re-admittance happened 46 days later on Easter Morning when they were dressed in gowns of white and allowed back into the congregation.
For our service this evening I have prepared a few of the palm leaves we used in the Palm Sunday Service last year. I crushed the leaves and burned them in a pan. The ashes were ground through a fine strainer and placed into a jar. During the service I will take olive oil and mix the two together to form a paste.
During the service congregates wishing receive the Imposition of Ashes will come forward and I will place the symbol of the cross on their foreheads with the traditional words. “Remember man, that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
We are starting the season of Lent with the sign of the cross in ashes on our foreheads. The next 46 days will be a time of reflection and preparation. It will be a solemn time, but will end in celebration. On Easter we accept the gift of salivation God gives to us.
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