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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.






10 October 2005

Ashes to Ashes


Q: When we are at the grave site, what does it mean, “ashes to ashes”?

A: I think this is just a poetic way of emphasizing our return to that from which we were created (earth and dust are also used). At the same time, it also hearkens to the use of ashes as a sign of repentance and of mourning in the Scriptures.

I checked with some brother pastors to see if I could find any more. They pointed out that the words are in the English rite in the Book of Common Prayer and in various German church orders. This seems to be a threefold way of showing the decomposition of the body after death as the result of sin and God’s judgment. Perhaps the earth, ashes, and dust are all used to indicate divine involvement, since three is the number that often symbolizes the Triune God and His works.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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