The Imposition of Ashes

For nearly a thousand years, these words have been spoken to young and old alike as the sign of the cross is traced on their foreheads with ashes – the Imposition of Ashes, as it has come to be known.  During the last half of the 20th century, Lutherans have also begun to make use of this ancient rite, and indeed, it has been approved for use in the forthcoming Lutheran Service Book.  And so, as our catechism is prone to ask: “What does this mean?”  Where did this rite come from and how can it be used meaningfully in LCMS congregations today?

Ashes in the Bible

The Bible contains a number of references to ashes and dust(Joshua 7:6; 1 Samuel 1:2, 15:32; Job 2:12, 16:15; Jeremiah 25:34).  In fact, the Lord’s curse on Adam, “dust you are, and to dust you shall return”(Gen. 3:19) is echoed in the Imposition of Ashes formula.  In the New Testament, Jesus declares:  “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.”  Thus, in the Bible, ashes carry a two-fold meaning:  as a sign of human mortality and as a sign of public repentance.

Ashes in Church History

This understanding carried over into the early and medieval church. Tertullian(ca.160-225) describes the use of sackcloth and ashes in the penance of an adulterer before his pastor.  Originally, ashes were reserved only for public penitents-i.e, murderers, adulterers and others who had fallen away from the church but desired reconciliation. The beginning of Lent became a primary season of the church year for that to take place.

By the 12th century, ashes became associated with the beginning of Lent, thus providing the first day of Lent with its name, Ash Wednesday.  By the time of the Reformation, the Imposition was a mainstay of Lenten piety and practice.  However, Lutherans at the time of the Reformation did not choose to retain the Imposition of Ashes. Thus, although Lutherans began Lent with Ash Wednesday, they did not retain the use of ashes.

Ashes today?

A contemporary Lutheran appropriation of the Imposition of Ashes should begin with the two-fold biblical understanding of ashes: as a sign of our mortality and as a sign of our repentance.  Likewise, the traditional formula, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” is appropriate, since it paraphrases the words of God in the Garden of Eden.  By receiving the ashes, the worshipper acknowledges that God’s judgment against our sin is right and just.  But the ashes are also made in the sign of the cross – the very instrument by which our Lord took upon himself the punishment for our sin, in our place.  Thus, the cross of ashes serves to remind us that we are sinners, and that Christ died for us sinners.

The rite begins the service for Ash Wednesday, with the pastor calling the congregation to observe the holy season of Lent:  Dear Brothers and sisters of our Lord Jesus Christ, on this day the Church begins a holy season of prayerful and penitential reflection.  Our attention is especially directed to the holy sufferings and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.  From ancient times the season of Lent has been kept as a time of special devotion, self-denial, and humble repentance born of a faithful heart that dwells confidently on His Word and draws from it life and hope…

The congregation might join in praying the ancient Litany, or it may conclude with prayers.  When the Litany or prayers conclude, the pastor and assistants receive ashes first, followed by the congregation.  Using the right thumb, the pastor or assistant places the ashes on the forehead of each person, saying, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

So what happens after you leave Ash Wednesday with those ashes on your forehead?  The first thing that happens is that you go out into the world where others will see that cross on your forehead.  Your silent witness has been given; you have been marked as one redeemed by Christ crucified.

But the other thing that happens is that you will eventually go home and wash those dirty ashes off your face.  And doesn’t that water also become a concrete, tactile reminder of the water of your baptism, where your sins were washed away forever? God’s grace abounds!



Putting It All Together


            Over the past several months we have set out as a congregation to learn what God's Word has to say about stewardship.  One thing we learned is that faithful stewardship is a lifestyle.  So here is a review of God's Word for you to study with the year ahead in mind.  No matter where you are at in your stewardship---tithing, going beyond the tithe, or still considering the concept of tithing--- let this study lead you to think about and pray about stewardship based on the Word.

            Your heart will always go where you put God's money.  Jesus said that "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" and as we say each Sunday morning at the Offering: "We give Thee but Thine own."  God is the ultimate Giver of our incomes:  all these gifts come from Him.  To acknowledge this gift and our dependence on the Lord, God calls us to give a portion of our income back to Him for the maintenance of His Church.  Indeed, the Scriptures are very clear: God calls His people to give at least a tithe of their income (10% of whatever "comes in") back to Him at their place of worship.

            This calls for faith.  Do we trust God's Word?  Do we trust that what He says is for our benefit, not our harm?  If you never tithed before, it can be a scary proposition.  Give 10% of my income away?  You've got to be kidding.  But God doesn't ever kid us in His Word.  Instead, He tells us how to live holy and blessed lives full of peace and contentment.  Consider these Scriptures:

            Jesus said, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19-21)

            "Will a man rob God?  Yet you rob Me.  But you ask, 'How do we rob You?'  In tithes and offerings.  You are under a curse-- the whole nation of you-- because you are robbing Me.  Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house.  Test Me in this," says the Lord Almighty, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it." (Malachi 3:8-10)

            "On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as each one of you may prosper." (1 Corinthians 16:2)

            "But just as you excel in everything--- in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us--- see that you also excel in this grace of giving." (2 Corinthians 8:7)

            "The point is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work." (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)

            We do not make God poor when we fail to give money to Him properly, but we do make ourselves poor if we do not give according to the standards He sets for us in His Word, the Bible.  God does not need our money, but we need to give the way the Bible tells us to in order to overcome the negative influence money and the things of this world can have on us.

            God will never tell us to do something that will be to our harm--- He loves us too much for that.  Jesus gave His life on the cross for me.  He loves me and knows what is best for me --- so I can know that what He says about stewardship is meant for my benefit.  He wants my heart to be with Him --- and my heart will always follow where I put God's money.  Tithing is not easy: it is godly.  It will change your life.  Stepping out in faith always does.  You may have to change your lifestyle to accommodate following God's Word in this matter.  But tithing will change your life in other ways too:  it will give you a peace and contentment that can only come from actually putting yourself in the hands of the Lord.

            So read through those Scriptures again.  Pray through the following questions and step out in faith this year with giving that is in accord with God's Word.  And just see if you are not blessed in it.

The Lord loves me and gave Himself for me on the cross.                           Y         N

All that I have comes from the Lord.                                                             Y         N

The Lord blessed me to live in the richest land in the world.                                   Y         N

If I had to start living on 90% of my current income tomorrow,

            I or someone in my family would starve.                                          Y         N

I/We have been making first-fruit, regular, proportionate and

            generous (at least 10%, a tithe) money offerings to

            the Lord from the heart.                                                                     Y         N

If "Yes", the Lord gets all the glory for that.                                                 Y         N

If "No", the Lord wants me to change the way I make money

            offerings to Him.                                                                                Y         N

If the Lord wants me to change, I should change now, not later.                  Y         N

It is the power of the Holy Spirit and the love of Jesus Christ

            that changes me for the better.                                                           Y         N


(Using a guide by Rev. Heath Curtis, pastor of two rural parishes in southern IL)

                                                                        Yours in Christ,




                                                                        Pastor Ognoskie

Theology of the Reformation


The Reformation was, first and foremost, all about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It was then, and it still is now. The task of reformation never ends, for every person, in every generation, needs to hear the good news of their Savior from sin and eternal death.

            Perhaps Christianity has never been explained more simply and eloquently than in the words Martin Luther wrote to explain the Apostles’ Creed. Here is his timeless explanation that is a superb summary of what the theology of the Reformation was all about then and is all about today.

I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.

I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord. Who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.

From the LCMS website

Zion's History

Zion's history is long and rich.  Originally Salem Lutheran Church, it was first organized in 1856.  In 1857, the first Church building was erected, at a size of 24' x 24'.  Sadly, this building was burned in the Great Wilton fire in 1874.  A new building was constructed at the corner of Cedar Street and Wate Street, and stood until 1944, when the Salem congregation, then a member of the Iowa Synod, disbanded.

In 1875, then Pastor Strobel decided to join the Missouri Synod.  A portion of the congregation followed and accepted the name of Zion Lutheran.  While this event was full of some drama, the result was a parsonage and school being built in 1881.  The school doubled as a location for Divine Service.  This congregation soon outgrew the school building, and in January of 1892, it was decided to build a church. 

Eventually, the congregation, now under the leadership of Rev. P.W. Happel, decided to build a new, brick building, and move the current building just east to become a school.  The cornerstone was set in place in the summer of 1929, and the church was dedicated that winter.  The former church building was moved just a few yards to the east, and converted into a 2 room Christian day school.  Zion still has a very active and successful Preschool.

Many improvements and additions have been made over the years.  A marble baptismal font was purchased, the basement was renovated to serve as a fellowship hall, and an administration center was built.  The organ that was part of the church dedication in 1929 is still in use today.