Church is always filled to the brim on Ash Wednesday, with people standing in the back, kids fidgeting in the pews, and people making time to start the Lenten season. But why?
You can make the simple argument that people come because they get something, an outward sign of ashes, but I think it may be more than that.
The world often implies that what is right in front of us is all there is. We live like what matters to us most is a promotion or success, a feeling of happiness, acceptance or ease, money, or momentary needs or wants. So much of our days are consumed with getting these things. Ash Wednesday reminds us that all of the things we are working for, no matter how noble, will fade away. You will die, your world will turn to ash.
We crave this truth of mortality, sometimes subconsciously, that is why Ash Wednesday service is so full. In the simple act of ashes being placed on our head, we can choose to strip away everything that is temporary and dwell, even if for a second, on what is eternal.
When we have ashes placed on our heads, we are not merely talking about the idea of immorality, but truly feeling with our sense of touch the ashes to which our bodies will become.
We crave the reset, the second chance, that Lent provides. The ashes on our heads and the words spoken to us feel like a baptism of sorts. An outward sign of an internal reality. A breath from the constant message that we need more of what is temporary. A solemn look into our destiny, a grave.
We can, in that moment, choose to offer the ashes of our life to God, joining them to the life and sacrifice of Christ.
Memento mori, Latin for “remember that you have to die”