The Pastor did a great job explaining to us the reason for the holiday. She explained that on this day, ashes are placed on the foreheads of the congregation, marking each forehead with the sign of the cross. Traditionally people also wore sackcloth, or clothing made from the rough material of burlap. This ritual echoes the ancient eastern tradition of throwing ashes over one's head to signify repentance before God. In her sermon she explained that this day signifies the first day of Lent, representing the first day Christ went out into the wilderness and fasted for forty days. At the end of the forty days will come Good Friday, the day of Crucifixion and then Easter, the day of Resurrection.
The scripture she read was 1 Samuel 15:22 - But Samuel replied: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. I really like this approach to the term sacrifice. When we obey, we are giving up self-will, which is very much a human sacrifice, shown to us by the ultimate sacrifice and act of obedience - Jesus giving himself up on the cross. He obeyed His Father.
I don't know if I fully understand the significance of the event, but to me it is a day of sorrow and repentance for the things that I've done wrong, my disobedience to God, keeping His commandments and most of all the affect it has had on those around me. After receiving the charcoal marking on my forehead, I went to the alter to pray. I prayed for forgiveness and the strength to follow Christ fully in the future. When I arose, I felt the relief from the forgiveness that we receive from Jesus, but still sorrowful because those I've sinned against that are not so easily willing to forgive, and are unlikely to forget. I struggle with regret and shame from some of the things I've done wrong.
The good news is...is that Christ is working in us and in the lives of others. We interact, and in doing so bless and sin against our fellowman and loved ones. It is a cycle of love, forgiveness and accepting each other for our humanness. At the alter I also took a vow of sacrifice for the next forty days. My sacrifice is self-will. I made a promise to God to study the Bible everyday for this period, and I look forward to doing so.