Reflection: Ash Wednesday

Welcome to our series of Lent and Easter reflections.

Our Ash Wednesday reflection, inspired by Matthew 6: 16-21, explores the significance of the cross of ash being marked on foreheads.

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Matthew 6: 16-21 

And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 


The symbol of Ash Wednesday is usually a cross made of burned ashes traced across our forehead. ‘Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return’, we are told. Lent is, after all, a season of penitence. But that cross is not the first to be traced on that spot.
The first cross we received was drawn on our heads at our baptism as we became members of the family of the Church, grafted into Christ’s Body and given the hope of glory. For a moment on Ash Wednesday, we are honest about how our sin and shame so often blot out that hope, our capacity for love; we recall our share in the fallen world’s violence and greed, and how that can become overwhelming. But the original baptismal cross shines through. That is our treasure.
A priest friend of mine once went into a school on Ash Wednesday worried that the Ash on its own might not tell the whole story to this group of kids. So he mixed some glitter in with the ash. Stardust, we might say. And after telling every teenager in the room to remember that they were dust, and to dust they would return, he added, ‘Go for glory.’  


Grant we beseech thee O Lord, that by the observance of this Lent we may deepen in the knowledge of the mystery of Christ, and through our time of pilgrimage grow in holiness, peace and forgiveness. Through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.