We are reminded that we are dust and to dust we shall return. We are reminded of our sin and our Savior from sin. Jesus goes into the dust for us and we are given new life in His forgiveness.
This from Paul Gregory Alms a Pastor in Catawba North Carolina in Concordia Theological Quarterly Jan/April 2011 –
What we do on Ash Wednesday is a quick, repetitive moment of ritual; ashes, the motion of the cross, and a few words. Yet by it we are placed directly into the foundational narrative of humanity. This imposition of ashes is not pedagogical. On the first day of Lent, we are not “told”, about creation or taught the doctrinal import of the fall or the story of Cain. In fact the appointed readings for the day ignore the opening chapters of the Jewish Bible. What Ash Wednesday does is place us in the story. We become actors in the narrative. The story happens to us in a visceral, tactile way.
At that moment, all our modern pretensions are cast off. We lose our pretend advancement and our clean, digital disconnection from things dirty and primeval. We are thrust once more to the soil. We do not sit in the pew learning ancient Palestinian stories. We are physically marked with ashes. Words are spoken over our bodies. We are addressed personally and individually. We become Adam and Eve and Cain and the recipients of the flood and what is true about us, but our bodies, our relationship to our maker is tossed out into the open.