Ashes are an interesting symbol.  In ancient cultures, ashes are a sign of mourning.  Ashes are reminders of mortality.  Ashes are what is left after a conflagration of some kind has occurred.  Ashes are remains.  So, why does the season of Lent begin with Ashes?  Perhaps the answer lies in the nature of the Gospel itself.

If we take the story of Jesus seriously, life follows death.  Easter comes at the end of Lent but it is immediately preceded by the passion, the retelling of the story of the suffering and death of Jesus.  The Gospel writers are very specific to tell us that Jesus dies and is buried.  He is not stunned nor has he fainted.  He is dead.  So dead, in fact, that he required burial and he stayed buried long enough for everyone to agree that he was dead.  Having established that Jesus was thoroughly dead, God raised him to new life. 

Jesus taught that those who follow him would have to pass through that same journey.  They would need first to die so they can live.  Life follows death.  This brings me back to ashes.

Before we can know the full experience of the life Jesus offers, we need to die to the life we have chosen for ourselves.  Ashes are the symbol of that death.  So, as we begin the Lenten journey, let us lament and mourn, let us sit in the ashes as a symbol of our willingness to turn, to repent, from our way so that we can take up the way that leads to life.

Let us lament our aspirations to glory. 

Let us die to our ambitions and desires.

Let us mourn the ways we have hated and hurt others.

Let us turn away from our lusts for material gain.

Let us repent of our worship of the false gods of security, wealth and status.

Let us give up all of our claims in this life for the sake of Christ’s hope for new life.

The truth of the Gospel is that life follows death.  So, let us begin in the ashes so that we can be made ready for the new life coming in the resurrection.