… Tamar put ashes on her head, and tore the long robe that she was wearing; she put her hand on her head, and went away, crying aloud as she went.
(2 Samuel 13: 19 NRSV)
Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. It is a solemn day of prayer, of self-examination, of repentance.
In many denominations, the observance includes worshipers having ashes imposed on their foreheads as a symbol of repentance. The ashes are customarily created by burning the palms from the previous Palm Sunday.
I have participated in Ash Wednesday services in various places and denominations, depending on what church was handy in the middle of a workday. I have also received the ashes at different times of day, but usually at early morning.
I’ll tell you this: wearing a cross-shaped black smudge on your forehead exposes you to some odd glances. That doesn’t bother me, but I tell you, if you have the ashes imposed early in the morning, they begin to be itchy by the afternoon!
There is also the subtext of death involved in receiving the ashes. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust” is repeated at burial services. So, when one goes about one’s usual business on Ash Wednesday, it is with a visual reminder that our days are numbered.
Even wearing the ashes, we carry in our hearts and minds the end of the story. We know that there will be celebration at Palm Sunday, solemnity at Maundy Thursday communion, pain and sadness on Good Friday. But we can walk through “the valley of the shadow” because we know that Easter is coming.
So, wear your ashes as a reminder for your heart and soul, as a witness to everyone who sees you, and as an emblem of your Savior.