What Happened On Ash Wednesday In The Bible

It’s not uncommon for those who practice Christianity to hear the phrase “Ash Wednesday” and think of Lent, fasting, and repentance. But few are familiar with the biblical story behind Ash Wednesday and why ashes are so integral to the day’s rituals. In short, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the holiest season in the Christian calendar—Lent—where one prepares for the commemoration of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But there are even more meaningful details within the biblical narrative where it is first mentioned.

When the Bible speaks of the story of Ash Wednesday, it gives us a glimpse into the ancient Jewish practices of fasting and prayer. In the book of Daniel, we find the practice of an individual putting ashes on his head and wearing sackcloth as a sign of humility, reverence, and sorrow. (Daniel 9:3) This act was an expression of a people’s beloved covenant with God, where repentance was sought and confession was made.

A closer look at Ash Wednesday reveals that, while a day of mourning and repentance, it is also a day to acknowledge God’s omniscience, mercy, and justice. We are all broken; yet, God can, in His gracious mercy, meet us in those places of brokenness and make us whole again, if we are willing to call on him for the help. When ashes were placed on the crown of an individual’s head, it was a sign of surrender, of humility, and of a foundational truth: that apart from God, we are nothing.

This powerful message is more relevant today than ever before, particularly as millions of Christians around the world are still living in strained, difficult, and sometimes perilous conditions. Ash Wednesday draws attention to the shared commitment of Jesus’ followers advancing Him and His kingdom and takes us back to the call of the original followers of Jesus—the call of self-denial and a total commitment to Him. As it applies to today’s world, this call to deny ourselves still applies—in our habits, in our decisions, and in our level of commitment to the advancement of God’s kingdom.

When celebrated properly, Ash Wednesday is a powerful reminder of the futility of our own resources and strength and a call to press into a daily faithfulness and repentance—where we acknowledge that God is, indeed, the author and perfecter of our faith. Not only do we look to Him, but we seek to follow His will in all aspects of our lives, with a heart that turns away from our own ideas of success and identity.

The Origin of Ash Wednesday in the Roman Catholic Church

The origin of Ash Wednesday, as celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church, dates back to the year 1091 AD. During this time, Pope Gregory VII established the tradition of receiving a blessing of ashes on the first Wednesday of the Lenten Season. This blessing was meant to be a public sign of penance and served as the start of a public “Lenten fast.” The ashes are meant to signify a repentant heart, and the long-standing tradition of giving ashes to the faithful has become a symbol of mortality and repentance. For centuries, receiving a blessing of ashes on Ash Wednesday has been a solemn reminder to Christians of their mortality and an occasion to rededicate themselves to the Lord.

Revivals of Ash Wednesday

The observance of Ash Wednesday began to wane in the mid-eighteenth century. By the twentieth century, it had become a tradition for only the more traditional churches. That began to change in the 1960s, when a movement towards the “rediscovery” of Ash Wednesday began. A number of Protestant denominations adopted the practice, and today many Christian churches celebrate the day in some fashion.

In recent years, there has been a growing trend of non-Christians observing the day, either within or outside of Christian traditions. This has provided an opportunity to introduce the Christian practices of Ash Wednesday to those unfamiliar with them, and to bring people of all faiths together in a spirit of awareness, reverence and shared commitment to spiritual growth.

The Meaning Behind The Ashes

Today, the ashes that are placed on one’s forehead on Ash Wednesday are made from the blessed palms from the previous Palm Sunday, the Sunday that marks the day Jesus entered Jerusalem. This is symbolic of the Christian’s life-long spiritual journey, in which we are humbly reminded of our human frailties, our brokenness, and our need for grace and redemption.

The ashes that are placed upon us on Ash Wednesday are also symbolic of our mortality. As Dust we are born, and to dust we shall return—these words remind us that life is fleeting and Christ is the only way to an eternity with God. It’s a powerful reminder to place our hope in Him, and to turn away from our own brokenness and mortality, instead clinging to the eternity that can only be found in Him.

Modern Significance of Ash Wednesday

In modern times, Ash Wednesday is a powerful call to repentance and a reminder of the grace that is available through Jesus Christ. It’s an opportunity to humble ourselves before God and to seek His will in our lives. It’s a reminder of the brokenness that exists in our world, and a call to commit ourselves to spiritual growth.

As we reflect on Ash Wednesday and its significance in the Bible and our lives today, we can be assured that there is hope for us. We can pray for strength and courage to face the trials and tribulations that come our way. We can use this day to remind ourselves of the mercy and love of our Lord Jesus, who died to save us from our sins, and thank Him for His grace and love.

The Practice of Lent

Lent is the traditional season of preparation between Ash Wednesday and Easter. During Lent, people often choose to give up something that they enjoy, such as a certain food. This practice serves to remind them of the sacrifice that Jesus made in dying on the cross. This persistent if brief physical reminder offers a profound reminder to daily remember and honor the Creator.

Lent is also an opportunity to focus on spiritual growth and deepening one’s relationship with God. Many people use this time to reflect on their faith, pray and read Scripture. During Lent, it’s common to fast from something that consumes a significant amount of time, energy or resources. This could be anything from social media to foods, and is intended to open up space to make more room for God in one’s life.

Lent is not only for those who are religious—it’s for everyone. It’s a time to reflect on our own lives and how we can grow closer to God. It can be a time to reflect on our own brokenness and what needs to be reconciled and transformed in our lives. Lent can serve as a time to focus on the true priorities in life and work on putting God at the very core of our being.

The Spiritual Benefits of Observing Ash Wednesday and Lent

The Ash Wednesday and Lenten seasons offer us an opportunity to seek stillness and quiet, to further deepen our relationship with God, and to remember the reasons why Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice of dying on the Cross. Recognizing God’s majesty and grace in our lives can fill us with a newfound purpose and a deeper understanding of who we are and why we’re here.

It’s a chance for us to take an intentional pause from the noise and stresses of everyday life, to focus on our spiritual walk and to receive the renewal that comes from spending time in God’s presence. The benefits of observing Ash Wednesday and Lent include an increase in our understanding of our own brokenness, a closer intimacy with the Creator, and a reluctance to compromise our faith.


Ash Wednesday, observed annually in the Christian Church, is a call to repentance, humility and spiritual growth. While a time of mourning, it’s also a time to remember the incredible mercy, justice and omniscience of God. Beyond its traditional celebration in Roman Catholic churches, Ash Wednesday has experienced new revivals among various Protestant denominations in recent years, and has also become increasingly popular among non-Christians. The ashes are symbolic of mortality and of our surrender to God and God’s will. In modern times, Ash Wednesday is an opportunity to focus on spiritual growth, to humble ourselves before God and to remember that, without God, we are nothing.

The Spiritual Significance of Serving During Lent

For most Christians, this season of Lent is marked by both sober reflection and active service. Service to those in need reflects the servant nature of Jesus, whose sacrifice was the ultimate form of service. It can be difficult to swim against the tide of materialism and consumption that marks modern society, yet service points to a higher way of living.

Service to others through acts of kindness, generosity and compassion can be an essential part of Lenten observance. God Himself served humanity through the example of Jesus, and we, as His followers, can reflect Him through our own selfless acts of service. Serving can further remind us to focus on what matters most—seeking the kingdom of God and helping the least of these.

Volunteering one’s time, talent and resources can open eyes and hearts to God’s work and to the needs of the world. Serving can let us love and serve others in tangible ways that bring glory to God and honor His love for humanity. Simple acts of service can further remind us of the poverty of spirit, or humility, that Jesus calls us to. It can remind us to be mindful of those around us who need help, and of the patient and humble nature of God.

Lent as a Season of Abstinence

Lent is also a time of abstinence and fasting. A fast is to abstain from some or all forms of food as an act of self-discipline in order to focus on prayer and spiritual growth. Fasting can be an act of self-denial that aids us in maturity, drawing us closer to God and helping us to break the self-absorption that follows us into our lives. Fasting humbles us so we are more attuned to the will of our God.

Abstinence is also an act of self-discipline, to deny oneself in order to pursue holiness by limiting worldly pleasures. Abstaining from certain activities can also help focus on Scripture and prayer, leading to more meaningful and faithfully applied actions. When practiced faithfully, these acts foster a true and virtuous heart before God, which yields greater maturity and understanding

By abstaining from certain activities or indulgences, we can learn to listen more closely to God. This season of fasting and abstinence can draw us closer to God, deepening our understanding of Him and His love for us. Though it may be difficult in the moment, the spiritual rewards are well worth the effort.

Lent as a Time of Public Confession

Marcos Reyna is a Christian author and speaker. He is dedicated to helping create disciples of Christ through spreading the power of the gospel to others. He has written several books and articles on a variety of theological topics, including matters of faith, worship, biblical studies, practical ethics, and social justice. A trained theologian and devotee of spiritual writing, Marcos has a mission to spread Christian love everywhere. He lives with his family in Nashville, TN where he spends his days encouraging others to seek Christ's grace in all things.

Leave a Comment