Across the globe and among varying denominations of Christianity, Feb. 22, 2023, is a holy day. Ash Wednesday took place, and many Christians had the ashes of last year’s Palm Sunday branches symbolically smeared across their forehead.
According to Christianity.com, “Ash Wednesday starts Lent by focusing the Christian’s heart on repentance and prayer, usually through personal and communal confession.”
Although Ash Wednesday is usually associated with Catholicism, Protestant and Orthodox Christians may opt to participate in Ash Wednesday. Even though Lent and Ash Wednesday are not specifically mentioned in the Bible, “the path of Lent—prayer, fasting and generosity over a period of time—is heavily emphasized by the authors of and characters in the Bible,” according to ChristianityToday. “The Bible commands a lifestyle of worship and devotion that looks considerably like Lent.”
Campus Ministry made an option for students to participate in an Ash Wednesday service during community hour. Students crowded the Vogel Room, where the service was held. Kristin Brouwer, director of discipleship, led the service.
“Ash Wednesday is the first day of lent and marks the beginning of this journey from the wilderness to the cross,” Brouwer said. “At one time, Lent was viewed as a time where Christians prepared for baptism on Easter Sunday, but later this season became a general time of penitence and renewal.”
Emily Berggren and Abigail Blok, Campus Ministry prayer and event coordinators, led the students in responsive prayer and confession.
After singing and prayer, Brouwer invited students to receive ashes on either the forehead or hand. The women distributing the ashes said, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return” while smearing the ashes in the shape of a cross across the hands and foreheads of the students who chose to participate.
“The Ash Wednesday Service was a wonderful spiritual reflection,” one student attendee said. “Even though there was a focus on lament, I also felt joy from the reminder that we are renewed in Christ.”
NW students Amelia Holt and Clara Pahl attended the Ash Wednesday Service at the episcopal church, right outside of campus Church of the Savior. “It was the first time I got ashed, if you will,” said Pahl. “It was a beautiful small service.”
Associate professor of sociology Chris Hausmann is Catholic, and catholicism has different views on Ash Wednesday and Lent than orthodox and protestant Christians. “So often, we shoehorn God into our own personal, cultural and political agendas,” Hausmann said. “On Ash Wednesday, I offer my physical face and all it stands for—my identity, reputation, my agendas—and someone puts ashes on it, saying, ‘Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return,’ and then I walk around all day with a reminder to me and others that I’m dust. What could be more counter-cultural and disruptive? The task of Lent is to get ourselves out of the way so we can grow closer to God.”
So, whether you decided to participate in Ash Wednesday or only saw people with smudges of ash on their forehead, Christians can remember this passage from Genesis 3:19, “for dust you are and to dust you will return.”