Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent; it takes its name from the practice of placing ashes upon a person’s forehead in the sign of a cross. Many Lutheran congregations perform the imposition of ashes as a mark of repentance.
This custom comes to us from the Jewish practice of using an external mark of penitence. In fact, the use of ashes is often mentioned in the books of the Old Testament such as Jonah, Job and Jeremiah as well as the New Testament book of Matthew. Ashes remind us of God’s condemnation of sin, as God said to Adam in Genesis 3:19, “You are dust and to dust you shall return.”
Members of Zion Baptist and Christ Lutheran churches, Washington, D.C., met in northwestern Washington to offer prayers and ashes to morning commuters waiting at bus stops.
Tim Philabaum, pastor, applies ashes to the forehead of James Laine during an Ash Wednesday service at Zoar Lutheran Church in Perrysburg, Ohio.
Ash Wednesday services are more than ashes. From left, Diane Aberi with daughters Kate and Jackie, sing at the Ash Wednesday service at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Skaneateles, N.Y., in 2012.
A member of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church , Lafayette, Ind., receives ashes at a 2011 service.
Lily Roth, 6, looks back at her parents after receiving ashes from Scott McAnally, her pastor, during the Lutheran Church of Hope , Broomfield, Colo., children’s Ash Wednesday service.