What Is the Imposition of Ashes?

What Is the Imposition of Ashes?

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Lent is a forty day season of penitence and preparation for the observance of Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday before Easter. Traditionally, the Lord’s Day (Sunday) is always a feast day, hence Sundays are excluded from the forty day period. This is why the days are rounded to 40 rather than the actual 46 according to the calendar.

What is the imposition of ashes? On Ash Wednesday, the ash from burned palm leaves of the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration are mixed with a binding agent like olive oil. The sign of the cross is then formed on the forehead as the words, “Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15) or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19) are declared. The use of ashes stems from the ancient practice of adorning oneself with ashes during a season of repentance (Mordecai, Job, Daniel). The ceremony reminds people of their mortality and the urgency of repentance. The imposition of ashes compels people to carry around with them a sign reminding them that death is the consequence of sin, that in death Christ has overcome sin, and through death to self anyone can experience the transformative power of the good news.

At the beginning of Lent, Christians will focus their hearts on their own proclivity to rebel and sin against God, and hence will emphasize penitence. Ash Wednesday thus sets the mood for the journey to the cross. The movement of the season, however, encourages people to press onward toward the redemptive act of God in Christ Jesus on the cross and embrace divine redemption and the fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8). While the season encourages self-examination, its performative elements are held together by joyful obedience to God’s commands (Psalm 37:4; John 15:10–14).

This year, join us as we journey through Lent with daily readings form Altar’d: The Transforming Power of Surrender on the Wake-Up Call. There’s still time to order your hard copy of the book from our store here.


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