Sunday, February 21, 2010

an imposition

I'm still thinking about Ash Wednesday.
Specifically I'm thinking about the fact that putting the ashes on the foreheads is correctly termed "Imposition of the ashes."
Why not "Applying of the ashes?" Or "Distributing of the ashes?" "Dusting of the ashes?" "Putting on of the ashes?"

An imposition is generally a negative thing. We don't like to impose on people. The government imposes taxes on us. Someone asking us to give them a ride in our already full car can be an imposition.

So why is this act of applying ashes an imposition?
Because it is a reminder of our sinful nature? Because it is a reminder of our mortality?

Isn't death the greatest imposition of all?

I think it's an interesting choice of words. If anyone knows why this terminology is used, I would love to know, too. If you have any thoughts about what that word means to you, I would love to hear that, too.


  1. Just a few of the definitions of imposition from say:
    *the laying on of something as a burden or obligation.
    *the ceremonial laying on of hands, as in confirmation or ordination.
    *the act of putting, placing, or laying on.

    Looking at the first definition there, the application of the ashes is the laying on of something that is an obligation - we are obligated to leave this flesh and return to the dust from whence we came.....
    The second definition there is pretty easy to relate to this... recieving the ashes confirms and announces our beliefs to the world around us. (Although, admittedly, ther are some who recieve the ashes with no clue why they do it.)
    The third definition simple reduces the word to mean application.
    There were other definitions as well.
    Think how many people think of religion as an imposition.
    How many people think of their commitments during Lent are an imposition?
    Perhaps even taking the time out of our schedules to go to the service to have the ashes applied.... an imposition?
    What an imposition to Jesus' godliness and eternal existance to put on flesh and become as man - just to redeem us! But He did it joyfully, turning servanthood into leadership - turning our ashes into beauty and our mourning into dancing! (Is 61:3; Ps 30:11)

  2. That's good, Helen.
    I only looked at Webster's and it didn't have any of these definitions.

    Even if a person fasts cheerfully, it is still a burden, isn't it?

    And there is the burden of contemplating the state from which God saved us.

    The pastor I heard reminded us of our roles theas ambassadors. So when he imposed ashes on me, it did feel like an ordination or commission.

    I like the definitions, Helen. Thanks!

  3. Good post and this post helped me alot in my college assignement. Gratefulness you for your information.


I love to hear your thoughts!