“…ashes, ashes, we all fall down.”
The old nursery rhyme “Ring around the Rosie” isn’t about Ash Wednesday, but its last line might as well be. Ash Wednesday is the first day of “Lent,” an old Germanic word for the season of spring that has come to be used for the 40 days of reflection on repentance leading up to Easter. The focus of the season is the humble recognition of our sin and the consequence of death it brings.
The ashes applied to the forehead or hand on Ash Wednesday remind us of the familiar funeral phrase “ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” based on God’s word to Adam and Eve when mankind first turned away from Him in sin, “for you are dust, and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19). Like Adam and Eve, we all “fall down.” We, too have sinned and lost any right to an eternal relationship with God (Romans 3:23). As painful as it may be, we will never understand who we are or why things happen to us if we fail to acknowledge the reality of our guilt and brokenness.
But that’s not the end of the story. We apply the ashes in the shape of a cross to remind ourselves that Jesus shared our mortality so that in Him and His resurrection we can receive once more the gift of eternal life and fellowship with God that He intended us to have (Romans 3:24!). Ash Wednesday reminds us of the horrible consequences of sin and encourages us to turn away from that sin to follow the One who gave up everything He had to give us eternal life!