Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. It is the first day of Lent. A time when there is a public act of confession of sins and penance.
We acknowledge that all have sinned and have come short of the glory of God. We recognize that, as with all living creatures, we are mortal. Ash Wednesday is a time when we can turn around, change our behavior and repent.
Historically, Ash Wednesday was the time when penitents were presented to the church for discipline that ended in reconciliation on Maundy Thursday. It is also a time when those seeking to be disciples of Jesus Christ would be enrolled in classes, learning the basics of Christianity in preparation for baptism on Easter Sunday or during the Easter Vigil.
Lent takes us from the ashes of death to resurrection on life. Ash Wednesday is the first day of our Lenten journey reminds us that unless our old habits, thoughts, and deeds die, we cannot be raised to a new life with Christ. This is, in many traditions, symbolized by the imposition of ashes on the forehead in the sign of a cross and the words from Genesis 3:19, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return,” are repeated again and again.
The ashes are a sign of our humanity and a reminder that we are mortal. The ashes represent the dust and broken debris of our lives and are a reminder that each of us will die.