I did not grow up in a Church that celebrated religious holidays other than Christmas and Easter. With that said, today is Ash Wednesday or the first day of Lent. After reading that piece of information on the internet several times this morning I set out to find out more about this religious practice of which I know very little.
1. Lent is the 40 days before Easter (not counting Sundays – so it is actually 46 days long) This year Easter will fall on March 27th
2. Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon word lencten, which means “spring.”
3. The forty days represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry.
4. Yesterday was Mardi Gras. The word Mardi Gras means “Fat Tuesday.” It is a day of celebration with feasting and partying before the religious seriousness begins. The idea was to spend a day of indulgence before a period of denying yourself.
5. Today is Ash Wednesday. Church leaders will take the palm branches from last year’s Lenten season and burn them to get ashes. A member of the clergy will then take those ashes and put them on the forehead of a Church member. It appears to be a symbolic reminder of man’s mortality and God’s solution in Jesus.
6. The original idea of the season as to set aside time for repentance, fasting and prayer leading up to Resurrection Sunday.
7. Most of these traditions are attributed to the Catholic faith in origin but some orthodox Churches also have it as part of their history.
The follow-up question for me is, “What do I think about this tradition?”
Well, there are two sides to that answer.
One, I see no Biblical reason to celebrate this season of Lent. There are no verses that talk about Lent, Fat Tuesday, Ash Wed. or any part of this holiday season. It is clearly an invention of the early Church to put a greater emphasis on the season in which we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Since there is no Biblical mandate to observe such a season then Christians are not required to keep it.
In Colossians 2:16 and Galatians 4 (especially vs 10), Paul explains that we have to be careful of believing that keeping a special religious holiday makes us right in God’s eyes. We are not saved by our righteous acts of worship but by Christ alone. Let no one enslave you to human traditions.
Two, I do not see that there is any harm in celebrating the Lenten season if it is done for the glory of God. In Romans 14:5-6 say that if one man considers a day as special it is okay as long as he does it for the Lord. It would probably benefit everyone if they spent a season of prayer and fasting this spring.
So today as people celebrate Lent and you see ashes on people’s head, hopefully you will have a better knowledge of what they are doing and why. May this day and everyday be a day for the glory of God.