What is Ash Wednesday?
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent which is explained below. First Presbyterian Church and many other churches hold a special service on Ash Wednesday. The service focuses on reminding us of our sinful nature and calling us to deeper reflection and repentance. Ashes, an ancient symbol of grief for sins, are placed on the foreheads of worshipers in the form of a cross as the pastor says, “Remember, that from dust you have come, to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). This cross is a tangible reminder of our sin and our need for Christ’s sacrifice.
What is Lent?
Many Christians both protestant and catholic observe a season called Lent that spans from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. Lent is generally a time for Christians to reflect upon Christ’s passion, to repent for sin, and to pray. Some people fast or give something up for the season. This season can be a profound time of self-reflection and faith renewal.
How long is Lent?
Lent is 40 days, but if you look at a calendar you’ll find there are more than forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Why? Sundays are not counted.
Is it biblical?
No The bible never mentions the word Lent, Ash Wednesday, or Easter. This is a tradition developed over decades. Lent began the Catholic church. However, Lent is widely practice among protestant denominations as well, but, should it be?
Some would say since Lent is not mentioned in the bible; therefore, it should not be observed. The assumption being that if something is not mentioned in scripture, then it is automatically contrary to the Word of God. The mere appearance or absence of a word in scripture doesn’t automatically make it endorsed or contrary to the Bible.
Consider how many churches value traditions such as, Sunday School, Family Night Suppers, Women’s Circles, Vacation Bible School, and Rally Days, etc. None of these are mentioned in the Bible. Nevertheless, these traditions have tremendous value in helping people learn and grow in faith. Tradition in and of itself is not evil or contrary to the will of God.
The real issue is whether or not a tradition helps us be faithful to God’s commandment. This isn’t a new problem. Jesus encountered this problem with the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Consider Mark 7:1-13…
Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly,a holding to the tradition of the elders, 4and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash.b And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
“‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God) then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
The problem was not that the Pharisees had traditions. The problem was three-fold:
- They taught those traditions as doctrines.
- They ignored the commandments of God, but held to their traditions.
- Their hearts were far from God.
So how might this passage apply to Lent?
Regarding ‘they taught traditions as doctrines’…
Lent should not be taught as a mandate doctrine of God. Lent is not commanded, but it can be a helpful observance that motivates us to commit to the Lord in greater ways. For example, for forty days we could adopt a discipline of performing daily acts of kindness to our neighbor or reading through a gospel to understand Jesus better.
Regarding“they ignored the commandments of God, but held to their traditions”…
Are the traditions you keep helping you honor God? If you decide to adopt a Lenten practice, will what you have in mind honor God and help you be more faithful? For example, the first time I committed to a discipline for Lent, I did something which probably appeared to many as having no spiritual value. I purged forty bags of possessions from my home and office. I realized my life was cluttered with excess. Spiritually, I needed to become a better steward and trust God more fully. One year I adopted praying every day for an hour. This rekindled my relationship with God.
Regarding ‘their hearts were far from God’…
Examine your motivation when you adopt a discipline, whether it be for Lent or not. The Israelites were actually doing what God required regarding sacrifice, but God was displeased. Why? Their hearts in so many other areas were completely contrary to His will.
So, what is the bottom-line about Lent?
Lent can be a tradition for the sake of tradition, which doesn’t honor God. Or, Lent could produce significant growth in your faith. The difference depends on your intention and your obedience. Is your motivation to draw near to the Lord, grow in your faith, or another spiritually worthy goal? Are you choosing actions which will help you walk more faithfully, more obediently?
Please come join us!
On February 14th, we will have our usually potluck supper beginning at 6pm. At 7pm we will go up to the sanctuary for a brief Ash Wednesday Worship Service. Feel free to join us for either or both the dinner and the service. We would love to be our guest and hope this service is a blessing to you.