Ash Wednesday is the first day of the Lent season. Lent is a time when some Christians prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance and spiritual discipline. It occurs 46 days (40 fasting days, if the six Sundays, which are not days of fast, are excluded) before Easter and can fall as early as February 4th or as late as March 10th. According to the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus Christ spent 40 days fasting in the desert, where he endured temptation by the devil. Lent originated as a mirroring of this fact.
Ash Wednesday and Lent are observed by most Catholics and some Protestant denominations. The Catholic Church states that Ash Wednesday emphasizes two themes: the sinfulness of man and the human mortality. Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of blessing ashes. The participants will have the sign of the cross rubbed with ashes on their foreheads. It is traditional to save the palm branches from the previous Palm Sunday service to burn to produce ashes for this service. Sometimes a small card or piece of paper is given so that the worshipers may write their sins on. Then, the papers are burned with the palm branches signifying cleansing the heart.
The Bible records accounts of people in the Old Testament using dust and ashes as symbols of repentance and/or mourning (2 Samuel 13:19; Esther 4:1; Job 2:8; Daniel 9:3). People humbled themselves before the Lord as they repented of their sins. But the scriptures never mention Ash Wednesday and Lent. Christians should repent of their sins every day of the year and not just on Ash Wednesday and during Lent. And merely going through the ceremonies and rituals have no effect on purifying the soul from sin.
Further, Jesus taught, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen” (Matthew 6:16-18). Jesus’ command to “wash your face” goes contrary to the practice of rubbing ashes on one’s face on Ash Wednesday.
Also, some have mistakenly come to believe that participating Ash Wednesday have “sacramental” value to obtain God’s favor. These ceremonies should not be done in order to atone for sins or gain the Lord’s love. God’s love for us could not be any greater than it already is (John 3:16; John 15:13). And the Bible teaches that grace cannot be earned. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
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In His service,