Ashes to Ashes and Dust to Dust: Why Lutherans Receive Ashes on Ash Wednesday

Not all things “catholic” are “Catholic.”

Life Through Lutheran Lenses

Many non-Lutherans wonder why their Lutheran friends or family members wear ashes on their forehead at the beginning of Lent. Are they showing off? Are they trying to stand out? Is it some weird secret church ritual? What does it mean? Should I get them too?

There are three reasons why Lutherans go to church to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday. First, the ashes remind people of their sinfulness. Second, the ashes remind people of their mortality. Third, the ashes remind people that they have been redeemed. Let’s unpack this a bit.

Since ancient times, God’s people have used ashes as a sign of humble repentance (e.g. Jonah 3:5-9; Job 42:6; Daniel 9:3: Matthew 11:21; Luke 10:13). This tradition was carried on by the early church and remains an important tradition today. When one willingly goes up to a pastor and receives ashes on his/her forehead, they are admitting that…

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#THEBETTERMESSAGE      Coming in Lent!

Heb. 6  Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation.

In a world full of seemingly as many opinions, philosophies, religions, social constructs, and overall “positions” as there are people, one thing is making itself more clear to me by the day:

We Christians have the better message.

Let me state that again. We Christians have THE better message.

If that is true, you may wonder, why not just call it “the best message?” I’ll give a two-part answer to that. The word “best” seems to close off all discussion of the other options out there. It invites us simply not to consider them. The word “better” keeps all the other failed ideas out there in the discussion better so that we can see why the Bible’s message is THE better one. We should want to engage all other failed ideas out there if we believe ours is better.

The other part of my answer to the question, though, is that the word “better” is the term of preference for the preacher in the book of Hebrews. Hebrews is not a letter; it is a sermon. It is a sermon about Christ. But the goal of the sermon is to help his Jewish Christian hearers to understand that in Jesus, they have the better message, the one better than all others. The word “better” appears no less than 14 times in the book of Hebrews (an average of slightly more than once a chapter). Peter, in his two epistles, uses the term in a similar manner twice as well. The early church made it their point to preach the Gospel as better than all other options.

At present, I am working with the Board of Elders and the PPC to craft a vision for the next few years here at St. John’s around the theme: #thebettermessage. I even created this hashtag on Twitter a couple of years ago. Now the idea is, however, to make it the focusing principle of the work we do here. We have been given this better message. Now what are we going to do with it?

We will start casting this vision in Lent. The theme of our midweek series is #thebettermessage. We will be exploring the powerful way the Preacher to the Hebrews comforts his hearers with this better message and gives them strength to demonstrate to others that they have a better outlook and worldview and that the world can have this better message too!

I hope you will join us on Wednesday evenings this Lent. There’s Good News, the better message, for you! Don’t miss this opportunity to have your faith strengthened in the better message!

Sincerely, Pastor T.