Repent

You are dust. And to dust you shall return.

Ash Wednesday

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    You have just experienced a virtual imposition of ashes. Have a blessed Ash Wednesday.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    You have just experienced a virtual imposition of ashes. Have a blessed Ash Wednesday.

  • fws

    Amen

  • fws

    Amen

  • Joe

    Amen

  • Joe

    Amen

  • Peter Leavitt

    Believe it or not in our conservative Congregational church, this evening we will have a service and receive ashes on our forehead both virtually and really.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Believe it or not in our conservative Congregational church, this evening we will have a service and receive ashes on our forehead both virtually and really.

  • Joe

    Glad to hear it Peter, we had a short service of confession and absolution this morning with the impossition of ashes (and will have a full blown Divine Service this evening). I like having it first thing in the morning.

  • Joe

    Glad to hear it Peter, we had a short service of confession and absolution this morning with the impossition of ashes (and will have a full blown Divine Service this evening). I like having it first thing in the morning.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    Beautiful. Would to God my baptist culture had more of this beautiful truth in beautiful liturgy.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    Beautiful. Would to God my baptist culture had more of this beautiful truth in beautiful liturgy.

  • fws

    John @ 7.

    “True worship is faith in Jesus Christ”. The augsburg confession of the evangelical Lutheran Church.

    Whenever anything Lutherans get anything right, it is because it is all about Jesus John. To be Lutheran is to radically make everything as much about Jesus and what he did as possible. You sound like a good Lutheran John.

  • fws

    John @ 7.

    “True worship is faith in Jesus Christ”. The augsburg confession of the evangelical Lutheran Church.

    Whenever anything Lutherans get anything right, it is because it is all about Jesus John. To be Lutheran is to radically make everything as much about Jesus and what he did as possible. You sound like a good Lutheran John.

  • fws

    Peter at 4

    wow. that is great Peter! You sound excited about it too. We are just starting ash wednesday services with our new pastor. not sure whether we will have ashes or not. wish us blessings.

  • fws

    Peter at 4

    wow. that is great Peter! You sound excited about it too. We are just starting ash wednesday services with our new pastor. not sure whether we will have ashes or not. wish us blessings.

  • Economist Doug

    My Lutheran pastor doesn’t place ashes upon our head during Ash Wednesday services. Being of a Catholic background I asked him why and he pointed me to these verses in Matthew:

    “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

  • Economist Doug

    My Lutheran pastor doesn’t place ashes upon our head during Ash Wednesday services. Being of a Catholic background I asked him why and he pointed me to these verses in Matthew:

    “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Doug (@9), your pastor seems well-intentioned, but I think he misses the point. The ashes aren’t a sign of fasting, though Christians may choose to fast during Lent (or at any other time, of course). Rather, as Veith notes above, they remind us that we are “dust” — we are sinful, mortal beings.

    More to the point, during Lent we especially focus on our sins (and repentance). And there is a difference between an honestly somber consideration of one’s own sins outward display of the pain one is putting one’s self through. The former, which one rightly observes in Lent, recognizes one’s own innate depravity and causes him to look to Christ. The latter, to which Jesus refers, desires that others would look to one’s self and recognize his innate goodness.

    Of course, for those who do choose to fast during Lent, it is good to remember Jesus’ words. I’ve already seen more than enough Facebook status updates about people who miss sweets. I don’t think they get it.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Doug (@9), your pastor seems well-intentioned, but I think he misses the point. The ashes aren’t a sign of fasting, though Christians may choose to fast during Lent (or at any other time, of course). Rather, as Veith notes above, they remind us that we are “dust” — we are sinful, mortal beings.

    More to the point, during Lent we especially focus on our sins (and repentance). And there is a difference between an honestly somber consideration of one’s own sins outward display of the pain one is putting one’s self through. The former, which one rightly observes in Lent, recognizes one’s own innate depravity and causes him to look to Christ. The latter, to which Jesus refers, desires that others would look to one’s self and recognize his innate goodness.

    Of course, for those who do choose to fast during Lent, it is good to remember Jesus’ words. I’ve already seen more than enough Facebook status updates about people who miss sweets. I don’t think they get it.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Whoops. That second paragraph should read (@10), in part, “And there is a difference between an honestly somber consideration of one’s own sins and an outward display of the pain one is putting one’s self through.”

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Whoops. That second paragraph should read (@10), in part, “And there is a difference between an honestly somber consideration of one’s own sins and an outward display of the pain one is putting one’s self through.”

  • Economist Doug

    #10 I was given to understand that Lent was a fasting season along with Advent. Christmastime, Epiphany, and Easter were seasons of feast.

  • Economist Doug

    #10 I was given to understand that Lent was a fasting season along with Advent. Christmastime, Epiphany, and Easter were seasons of feast.

  • Bruce Gee

    I always try to stop in at the local Stop N Go on the way home from Ash Wednesday service. ( I probably posted this last year as well but if Veith can repost the Ash Wednesday poem,well…). I’m invariably told that, ahem, “you seem to have a black cross on your forehead, sir!” I love that! Talk about silent witness.
    This is the time of year I feel badly for my evangelical brethren. There doesn’t seem to be any awareness at all among them of these forty days. It is Valentine’s Day, then Easter. I’m building some stage sets for a local megachurch, and the youth pastor is helping me haul them tomorrow. Hmm. I wonder if my cross of ashes will survive a night of sleep?…

  • Bruce Gee

    I always try to stop in at the local Stop N Go on the way home from Ash Wednesday service. ( I probably posted this last year as well but if Veith can repost the Ash Wednesday poem,well…). I’m invariably told that, ahem, “you seem to have a black cross on your forehead, sir!” I love that! Talk about silent witness.
    This is the time of year I feel badly for my evangelical brethren. There doesn’t seem to be any awareness at all among them of these forty days. It is Valentine’s Day, then Easter. I’m building some stage sets for a local megachurch, and the youth pastor is helping me haul them tomorrow. Hmm. I wonder if my cross of ashes will survive a night of sleep?…

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Doug (@12), Lent is certainly an appropriate time for fasting, though in Christian freedom, we may choose to fast or not during Lent.

    Nevertheless, the point is that we should not do our good works (including fasting) so as to draw attention to ourselves. But it is a stretch to say that this should apply to the observation of Lent itself — should we not let others know we’re going to church during this season. Does your pastor also proscribe Advent wreaths?

    I suppose that a person could wear the Ash Wednesday ashes in a manner so as to try to impress people: “Look, I went to church today! Aren’t I a good person!” And such behavior would then fall under Jesus’ admonition. But the ashes are first and foremost a lesson for the person bearing them on his head. If he feels the potential for prideful thoughts in keeping them on his head after he leaves church, he should wash them off. But, as Bruce notes, the ashes can also serve as a lesson for others who see them. As such, we can’t say that they are wrong in themselves, any more than the wearing of any other religious symbol, such as a jewelry cross.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Doug (@12), Lent is certainly an appropriate time for fasting, though in Christian freedom, we may choose to fast or not during Lent.

    Nevertheless, the point is that we should not do our good works (including fasting) so as to draw attention to ourselves. But it is a stretch to say that this should apply to the observation of Lent itself — should we not let others know we’re going to church during this season. Does your pastor also proscribe Advent wreaths?

    I suppose that a person could wear the Ash Wednesday ashes in a manner so as to try to impress people: “Look, I went to church today! Aren’t I a good person!” And such behavior would then fall under Jesus’ admonition. But the ashes are first and foremost a lesson for the person bearing them on his head. If he feels the potential for prideful thoughts in keeping them on his head after he leaves church, he should wash them off. But, as Bruce notes, the ashes can also serve as a lesson for others who see them. As such, we can’t say that they are wrong in themselves, any more than the wearing of any other religious symbol, such as a jewelry cross.

  • MDS

    Just came back from our service (LCMS). First time I have had the opportunity to receive ashes (grew up LCMS where it seemed to be considered too Catholic). Enjoyed receiving them and then immediately receiving communion, gives you a somber reflection of the why. Not overly happy about some of the contempory songs we sing interspersed with great hymns, however one had a great verse I will use to reflect upon the next 40 days:
    Behold the Man upon a cross,
    my sin upon His shoulders,
    Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
    cry out among the scoffers.

  • MDS

    Just came back from our service (LCMS). First time I have had the opportunity to receive ashes (grew up LCMS where it seemed to be considered too Catholic). Enjoyed receiving them and then immediately receiving communion, gives you a somber reflection of the why. Not overly happy about some of the contempory songs we sing interspersed with great hymns, however one had a great verse I will use to reflect upon the next 40 days:
    Behold the Man upon a cross,
    my sin upon His shoulders,
    Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
    cry out among the scoffers.

  • Kelly

    Personally, I found it lovely that our Ash Wednesday service this evening concluded with “Jesus Sinners Doth Receive,” which I have slated to be sung at my funeral. It was a good mental tie-in.

  • Kelly

    Personally, I found it lovely that our Ash Wednesday service this evening concluded with “Jesus Sinners Doth Receive,” which I have slated to be sung at my funeral. It was a good mental tie-in.

  • fws

    econ doug @9

    Often we read scriptures looking for THE rules to follow. we miss those rules by not reflecting on the reasons.

    I doubt that many today will praise folks for praying in public. or for wearing ashes. maybe…. but probably more, people will be sort of jarred by the intrusion of something into their existence that they are not used to seeing. and maybe this will be strange enough that it will require questions. and maybe those questions will be about discovering a christianity that differs greatly from their preconceptions. or not.

    I am all with every point Todd makes here.

  • fws

    econ doug @9

    Often we read scriptures looking for THE rules to follow. we miss those rules by not reflecting on the reasons.

    I doubt that many today will praise folks for praying in public. or for wearing ashes. maybe…. but probably more, people will be sort of jarred by the intrusion of something into their existence that they are not used to seeing. and maybe this will be strange enough that it will require questions. and maybe those questions will be about discovering a christianity that differs greatly from their preconceptions. or not.

    I am all with every point Todd makes here.

  • fws

    bruce @13

    hehehehehehehehe

  • fws

    bruce @13

    hehehehehehehehe

  • justme

    Just wondering if these words apply to this practice?

    Moreover when ye fast, be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.

    But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father, which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. Matthew 6:16-18

    Am just a simple minded person and it seems to me they do, but it would be great to hear what others think….thank you!

  • justme

    Just wondering if these words apply to this practice?

    Moreover when ye fast, be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.

    But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father, which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. Matthew 6:16-18

    Am just a simple minded person and it seems to me they do, but it would be great to hear what others think….thank you!

  • Kelly

    Justme: read the comments from #9 forward.

  • Kelly

    Justme: read the comments from #9 forward.

  • justme

    Thank you very much Kelly for taking the time to reply to an obvious idiot, ha! Guess like everything else, it’s how one interprets the words? Very well, but ash isn’t the same as dust, is it? Isn’t all the organic material burnt up in ash, and so it is “cleansed” of all living everything and virtually worthless? On the other hand, dust contains lots of useful stuff, not to mention complicated things like dust mites, microbes and germs? But that’s probably not important in this situation? OK, I get it and am sorry! Guess personally have never liked this tradition and usually can’t wait to get home and wash my face, but that’s just me, and am probably trying to interpret these words in a way to fit my own situation and comfort zone :) Well, whatever….in any case, thanks again Kelly and God Bless!

  • justme

    Thank you very much Kelly for taking the time to reply to an obvious idiot, ha! Guess like everything else, it’s how one interprets the words? Very well, but ash isn’t the same as dust, is it? Isn’t all the organic material burnt up in ash, and so it is “cleansed” of all living everything and virtually worthless? On the other hand, dust contains lots of useful stuff, not to mention complicated things like dust mites, microbes and germs? But that’s probably not important in this situation? OK, I get it and am sorry! Guess personally have never liked this tradition and usually can’t wait to get home and wash my face, but that’s just me, and am probably trying to interpret these words in a way to fit my own situation and comfort zone :) Well, whatever….in any case, thanks again Kelly and God Bless!

  • Joe

    The use of ashes as a sign that a person has entered a state of repentance has its roots in scripture. The people of Nineveh responded to Jonah’s profetic pronouncement of their demise by putting on sack clothe and ashes.

    And Christ himself expected those who heard him preach would react by repenting and putting on sack clothe and ashes:

    “Then He began to upbraid the cities where most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! woe to you, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” (Matthew 11:20-21 RSV)

  • Joe

    The use of ashes as a sign that a person has entered a state of repentance has its roots in scripture. The people of Nineveh responded to Jonah’s profetic pronouncement of their demise by putting on sack clothe and ashes.

    And Christ himself expected those who heard him preach would react by repenting and putting on sack clothe and ashes:

    “Then He began to upbraid the cities where most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! woe to you, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” (Matthew 11:20-21 RSV)

  • justme

    Joe at 22, thanks! Ashes, yes the perfect symbolism (if that’s the right word) for repentance and forgiveness. If my very limited knowledge of history is correct, was not some of the reason for burning things because that was a simple and known way of destroying and thereby cleansing anything of every possible living/organic material? It also meant there is no value remaining to whatever has been sacrificed and thus no chance to use anything left over for some other purpose and thereby dilute the value of the sacrifice as a sacrifice? In any case, it’s also a wonderful picture of how we should treat our sins and any rewards that are the result of our sinful life or ways? Burn them and forget them and move on, for they are worthless! But dust is another thing, is it not, and is it a good substitute for ashes in the above context? Am sorry do not have a concordance with me, so can’t look up all the versus with dust, but my guess would be they don’t address the same things as the verses with ashes. Substitute dust for ashes, in all your scripture verses and see if it has the same impact and meaning? Are there other verses in scripture where dust is used in a similar way as ashes? Is it appropriate to use the words interchangeably? Am not sure, so that was my point in my comments. Sure, obviously some think so and that’s ok with me, and it maybe correct to do so, but that’s not obvious to me, but that’s just me and I do not know scripture or theology very well, sorry to say :( So, thanks again Joe and God Bless!

  • justme

    Joe at 22, thanks! Ashes, yes the perfect symbolism (if that’s the right word) for repentance and forgiveness. If my very limited knowledge of history is correct, was not some of the reason for burning things because that was a simple and known way of destroying and thereby cleansing anything of every possible living/organic material? It also meant there is no value remaining to whatever has been sacrificed and thus no chance to use anything left over for some other purpose and thereby dilute the value of the sacrifice as a sacrifice? In any case, it’s also a wonderful picture of how we should treat our sins and any rewards that are the result of our sinful life or ways? Burn them and forget them and move on, for they are worthless! But dust is another thing, is it not, and is it a good substitute for ashes in the above context? Am sorry do not have a concordance with me, so can’t look up all the versus with dust, but my guess would be they don’t address the same things as the verses with ashes. Substitute dust for ashes, in all your scripture verses and see if it has the same impact and meaning? Are there other verses in scripture where dust is used in a similar way as ashes? Is it appropriate to use the words interchangeably? Am not sure, so that was my point in my comments. Sure, obviously some think so and that’s ok with me, and it maybe correct to do so, but that’s not obvious to me, but that’s just me and I do not know scripture or theology very well, sorry to say :( So, thanks again Joe and God Bless!

  • Kelly

    Job mentions repenting in dust and ashes (Job 42:6). Both are signs of humility, along with sackcloth, etc.

  • Kelly

    Job mentions repenting in dust and ashes (Job 42:6). Both are signs of humility, along with sackcloth, etc.


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