The practice of using ashes as a sign of repentance and/or mourning stretches back millennia. Tamar tore her robes and put ashes on her head after she was raped by her half-brother, Job sits in ashes as his life goes to ruin, and so on. What is interesting is the way that the ashes connect mourning and repentance. This connection allows us to see clearly one interesting aspect of repentance. True repentance has at its root a mourning over the profound disconnection created by sin, and when worn on the forehead as a sign of repentance, as we do on Ash Wednesday, the ash is a sign to others around us that we are taking time to mourn the loss created by sin and reconnect with God.
In Jonah, we see a man coming with no name or reputation and delivering a simple message of the judgment of God unless the people repent. This is what many believe Jesus meant when he spoke of the “sign of Jonah.” Jesus was talking about those times when we hear the voice of God through a stranger; when someone we know little or nothing about speaks words that resonate in our soul as if God himself were speaking.
This is an excerpt from the youth curriculum I wrote for Fearless: The Courage to Question. The material is free, a media bundle with videos and graphics is only $25.