Many people celebrate Lent today. My church is not liturgical, so we do not celebrate an “Ash Wednesday Service.” We also do not follow the traditional practices of Lent. However, the intended meaning is significant. What is Ash Wednesday and Lent?
Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent, which is 40 days prior to the celebration of Resurrection Sunday (the Sundays are not included in the count). It is a time when people are reminded of penitence and repentance in consideration of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. It is a time of moderation and spiritual discipline.
It was our sins that caused God the Father to put the humanity of God the Son on the cross to pay for the penalty of our sins (Is. 53:10). The Father’s righteousness was satisfied so the offer of salvation is made for all (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Tim. 2:3-6). Yet, a person who understands the holiness of God and the action of God’s love will spend time in reflection of that greatest of acts and gifts to man. This is traditionally celebrated beginning on Ash Wednesday and continues through Resurrection Sunday.
The use of ashes is a reminder of penance. Individuals receive the sign of the cross placed on their foreheads as a sign of mourning, repentance and human mortality. For some traditions, those who are between 18 and 59 years-old will fast. Fasting is done to focus more attention on prayer and God’s goodness. There is no Scriptural mandate for the use of ashes. There are, however, several passages that address the use of ashes by individuals, including 2 Samuel 13:19; Esther 4:1; Job 2:8; 42:3-6; Daniel 9:3 and Matthew 11:21. Ashes have also been used as a symbol of cleansing in Numbers 19:9, 17; Hebrews 9:13.
The Bible does not mention Ash Wednesday or the custom of Lent, so in the interpretation of Romans 14, it is neither mandated nor prohibited. Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert prior to His temptations by Satan. Ash Wednesday marks the date set aside by some to commemorate that account of prayer and fasting.
Ash Wednesday and Lent are really about self-denial. Self-denial is a spiritual discipline, often also labeled frugality. Self-denial is a biblical concept as Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23) With that in mind, how can we practice self-denial?
· Deny self the pleasure of eating out for a period of time. Use the money saved to give to God’s ministry.
· Deny self the pleasure of criticizing or avoiding another person. Use the opportunity to restore the relationship.
· Deny self the act of judging another and trying to remove their splinter. Instead remove your own plank and build God’s kingdom together.
· Deny self the grudge or bitterness against another. Use the opportunity to forgive and serve the person.
· Deny self the pleasure of some personal time and use the time to visit someone who is lonely.
· Deny self the enjoyment of extra hours of Bible study to go and help a new believer understand what you already know.
· Deny self the comfort of personal space and go to visit someone who is not able to join others in worship.
· Deny self the freedom of rest and go help a young mom who is worn out from caring for her precious children, so she can have some rest.
· Deny self the liberty to your personal time or hobbies and go help one who is burdened with life.
Ash Wednesday and Lent are great reminders of the greatest act in history. Just like many will celebrate the coming of the birth of Jesus in the Advent Season, so many will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus in the Lent Season. Whether you celebrate Ash Wednesday and Lent or not is not my issue. Self-denial is a biblical practice and it will be evidence that you are truly one of Jesus’ disciples.