In recent years it has become quite popular for clergy to offer “Ashes to Go” on Ash Wednesday since modern life leaves people too busy to visit a Church on this day.
While I commend the spirit behind the movement, there is a significant misunderstanding of what the ashes of Ash Wednesday mean. They are not primarily a mark that one is a Christian, or has been baptized, nor are they simply sign of blessing.
Ashes are a reminder that we are all going to die. We are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth we will return. This thought should bring us to our knees. We need the time and space to process this reality, to take stock of our human condition. This is what an Ash Wednesday service does, and to shortcut this tremendous work is a disservice.
Of course, Ash Wednesday proclaims the other side of the fact of Death. We proclaim that in Christ there is ultimate deliverance from death itself. And we receive ashes as a sign of our repentance from our sin that would bind us into death, and of our faith in Christ. This, too, is tremendous spiritual work and should not be cut short.
We then carry the mark into the world that proclaims that death is real, and our confidence that deliverance from death is found in Christ alone.