Ash Wednesday

by Dave Donelson
Traditional Music Worship Pastor & Senior Adults Pastor

“Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Render your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity” — Joel 2:12-13

Ash Wednesday is the first day of a 40-day spiritual journey. It marks the beginning of Lent and lasts through the Saturday before Easter, when Jesus was resurrected just days after dying on the cross to save us from our sins. But what is the significance of Ash Wednesday, and what do people do on this day?


The symbolism of Ash Wednesday—and how we observe it

Ash Wednesday (it’s also called the Day of Ashes) is a day when we focus our hearts on repentance and prayer. On this day, Christians around the world confess their sins and express their devotion to God.

In the Old Testament, ashes were often used to denote mourning, mortality and penance (which is basically a feeling of regret for wrongdoing or a punishment someone gives himself to atone for sin). On Ash Wednesday, ashes are applied to one’s forehead in a cross pattern in many churches today to symbolize death and repentance. When applying the ashes, the pastor or priest will say, “From dust you came and to dust you will return,” or “Repent and believe in the gospel.”

So, Ash Wednesday symbolizes two main things: death and repentance.

At Wooddale, we hold a special Ash Wednesday service that serves as a time of worship, reflection and teaching as we prepare our hearts for the next 40 days when we observe Lent, Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter. And while we don’t apply ashes to people’s foreheads, we enter into this special day with a heart to acknowledge our sin and mortality and worship a merciful God.

With this focus, Christians can enter into the Lent season solemnly while also looking forward in greater anticipation and joy to the message of Easter and Christ’s ultimate victory over sin and death.


What happens during Lent?

In the early days of the Church, the season of Lent was a time of preparation for new believers as they readied their hearts to enter into Christian Baptism on Easter Sunday. Since these new members were becoming a part of a living community of faith, the entire community was called to preparation. Also, this was when those who had been separated from the Church because of explicit sin would prepare to rejoin the community of faith.

Today, the season of Lent is a time of prayer, fasting, self-examination and confession for all Christians as we prepare to celebrate Easter. Through this 40-day journey, we are reminded how much we need grace in our lives to live a transformed life that reflects God’s love. We are called to renew our commitments and faith as we continually acknowledge our need for God’s life-changing presence with us.

I invite you to observe Lent by self-examination, repentance, prayer and reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. Take this time to make a right beginning by confessing your sins and expressing your desire to know God more.


A prayer for Ash Wednesday

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who repent. You are the source of all grace and mercy. Create in us new and contrite hearts, that we who come to you in penitence, lamenting our failures and our sins so that we may receive from you forgiveness, reconciliation, and transformation through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Easter is about more than just one Sunday a year. It’s about sacrifice—and triumph. Death—and new life. Loss—and new hope. From a hero’s welcome to death on a cross to being brought back to life, Easter wasn’t just a moment for Jesus. It was a journey. Join us we journey to Easter together.