I just got back from my first Ash Wednesday service. For someone who was raised in the church, it seems a little strange that this is the first time (at least that I can remember) having ashes on my head. As the pastor put the ashes on my forehead, he said the traditional line, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.” To be honest, I was surprised. I didn’t expect him to say that!
Leaving the service, I admitted to my parents that I really didn’t understand it. Why Ash Wednesday? Why the message that I am dust? I know Genesis 3:19, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” But still, the message sounded strange by itself.
I just did a quick word search of dust in the Bible, and after finding loads of examples in just the first few books I realized that dust is everywhere! From Abraham’s decedents being like the “dust of the earth,” (Genesis 28:14) to the plague where the dust in Egypt became gnats throughout the land (Exodus 8:17). Those are probably irrelevant.
What I do think is relevant, however, are passages like Joshua 7:6 which say, “Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the Lord, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads.”
So the ashes are meant to be an outward sign of our repentance and acknowledgement of God’s amazing glory.