This tradition emerges somewhere in the 10th century in which Christians begin the season of Lent with a gathering centered around receiving the mark of the cross in ashes on their foreheads.
Ashes: symbolize our desperate need,
The Cross: is the symbol of our great hope in Christ,
The forehead: communicates our core identity.
And frankly, aside from baptism and communion, it is difficult for me to imagine a more perfect image of the gospel than the mark of the cross, in ashes, on my forehead.
In other words, what is Christianity?
It’s the message that I am, fundamentally,
a sinner saved by the grace of God in Christ.
I was dead, but Jesus has given me life.
That’s who I am. That’s my core identity.
And admitting and embracing the truth of who I am is the
first step toward a whole-hearted relationship with Jesus.
And so this is the ancient tradition:
I approach a minister who traces the cross on my forehead with ashes while he looks me in the eyes and says, “Nathan, from dust you have come and to dust you will return. So turn from your sin and believe the good news!”