The ashes are a tangible reminder of our mortality. A physical reminder of how short our time is in this life. We are but a mist that appears for a short time and disappears (James 4:14). The ashes remind us to mourn for our sins and of our need for confession and repentance. I believe there is life in the ashes.
Jesus tells us that if we really want to find life, we must lose our life for him (Matt. 16:25). That to follow him means denying self, daily (Matt. 16:24). Picture the image of God’s love burning all of the excess and sin off of us…all of our greed, pride, selfishness, anger, guilt, shame, lust, addiction, hatred, feelings of being unlovable…burning all of it away and leaving not ourselves but Christ. Perhaps the ashes become what remains of self as it falls to the ground. Not until we die to self, allowing the love of Christ to burn the rest away, can we truly find life.
In those ashes, there is life.