Leaving the service, I admitted to my parents that I really didn't understand it. Why Ash Wednesday? Why the message that I am dust? I know Genesis 3:19, "By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return." But still, the message sounded strange by itself.
I just did a quick word search of dust in the Bible, and after finding loads of examples in just the first few books I realized that dust is everywhere! From Abraham's decedents being like the "dust of the earth," (Genesis 28:14) to the plague where the dust in Egypt became gnats throughout the land (Exodus 8:17). Those are probably irrelevant.
What I do think is relevant, however, are passages like Joshua 7:6 which say, "Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the Lord, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads."
So the ashes are meant to be an outward sign of our repentance and acknowledgement of God's amazing glory.
Which is cool. It reminds me of the lyrics in this song, Facedown, by Matt Redman.
Welcomed in to the courts of the king,
I've been ushered into your presence.
Lord, I stand on youor merciful gound,
Yet with every step tread with reverence.
There is none in heavens like you,,
And upon the earth, who's your equal?
You are far above, You're the highest of hights,
And I'm bowing down to exalt you.
And I'll fall facedown,
As Your glory shines around.
Yes i'll fall facedown,
As your glory shines around.
Let your glory shine around,
Let you glory shine around.
King of glory here be found,
King of glory.
It reminds me of the times in my life when I have experienced greatest peace, joy, and excitement, when I have been struck by reality -- how small I am and how big God is. At those times, in light of his mercy, the only appropriate response is to be to fall face down. Or maybe to put ashes on my head. Recognizing that I am dust is somehow liberating and delightful.