THE SYMBOLS OF ASH WEDNESDAY                                  Christopher Harrison

Scripture: Psalm 51: 1-12, 2 Corinthians 5:17-6:2, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Aim: To help folk understand the symbols of Ash Wednesday, as a way grasping the meaning of Lent.


Story: Ronald Levy, a first grader in Philadelphia, was told to come home directly from school, but he was late almost every day. The difference was as much as 20 minutes. His mother asked him: “Why is it that the schools ends each day at the same time, and you get home so much later?” He replied: “It depends on the cars.” “What do the cars have to do with it?” “Well,” he said, “The Patrol boy was told to stop the cars, so we can cross the road. Sometime we have to wait for a long time for there to be cars so he can stop them for us!”

Lent is the period where God invites us to stop the ‘cars’, so God can get more focus and attention in our lives. 

Ash Wednesday is the first day of the penitential season of Lent. Its true name is actually not "Ash Wednesday" but "The Day of Ashes." Whichever name is used, the reference to ashes comes from the ceremony of placing ashes on the forehead in the shape of the cross as a sign of penitence. This custom was introduced by Pope Gregory I, who was Bishop of Rome from to 590 A.D. to 604 A.D. It was enacted as a universal practice in all of Western Christendom by the Synod of Benevento in 1091 A.D.

The signs he sues are not the signs of the road, but the following signs:


The sign of the ash, is the sign of remorse and repentance, when placed on the body. It is focussed on the reality that we are sinners, and the wages, or result of sin is death. Ask reminded the Hebrew of the sacrifice that had been made, and the ash was placed outside in water, for the cleansing from sin - a connection to sin again.

-       Ash also reminds us of the sin that is in our lives, and the fact that we deserve to die. We know that we are mortal beings, who will die physically one day, but we also know that deserve the spiritual death too, but are not held ransom by it anymore.

-       It also reminds us that we are immortal beings, who have a life that is more important that the body. Our preparation time through Lent, is to remind us of the fact of our eternal life.


The cross is also a sign of death. We often forget that this was like a sign of execution. We have glorified it, and glamorise it. But it is a gruesome symbol.

-       Jesus was executed for our sin. It was my part that placed him there. I am the reason for this event. I am the sinner whom Jesus died for, in order that I may not die.

-       We give up things in Lent, because we need to be reminded time and again of the fact that Jesus gave up so much for us.


His body was broken, that we might be healed. The body is a part of our salvation. How we treat our bodies is an indication of our faith. If we say that our bodies are of little consequence then we are not seeing the power of Christ’s death in the Body. He needed then to only die spiritually! The body is a part of the salvation plan. In the light of this we give attention through fasting and care during the Lent journey as well.


This is the symbol of forgiveness and cleansing. We are sinners, who are recovered. We need to stand in the congregation and say, like the alcoholics do: “I am Chris, and I am a recovering alcoholic, because I have been forgiven and cleaned, and the sin that has worked hard to destroy me will still show some evidence, but I am free.”

CONCLUSION: So we STOP at the signs, and know that in each of them are signs of the good news of Jesus that we are loved, forgiven and transformed by God’s grace! We have stopped. The Lord has spoken. Now we can step into journey through Lent with greater meaning.