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What is Ash Wednesday?

What is the significance of Ash Wednesday and why do we celebrate it?

Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent in the church, a time when Christians prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance (turning away from sin and towards God), moderation and spiritual discipline. Ash Wednesday emphasizes two major themes: our sinfulness/brokenness before God and our human mortality, which have both been forever defeated through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. On this day, ashes are imposed on our foreheads with the sign of the cross. Ashes are an ancient symbol. In the book of Genesis, we read that God formed human beings out of the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7). After Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden, they are told by God, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). The Hebrew word translated “dust” is occasionally translated “ashes” elsewhere. Throughout Scripture, ashes are part of rituals when people seek forgiveness and mourn their sin. So, through the imposition of ashes on this first day of Lent, we come before our God recognizing our humanity, repenting of our sin, and remembering who we are and who we can be in Jesus Christ.