March 5, 2014 is Ash Wednesday and the first day of Lent. Though the Bible never specifically mentions either Ash Wednesday or Lent, both have become important traditions among many believers.
Ash Wednesday gets its name because people rub ashes on their foreheads in the sign of the cross. Making the sign of the cross with the ashes is meant to identify the person with Jesus Christ. Although Ash Wednesday is never specifically mentioned in Scripture, the practice of rubbing dust and ashes on one’s forehead is mentioned several times in the Old Testament as a sign of mourning and/or repentance.
Remember when Job’s friends first come to visit? The Bible says, “When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads” (Job 2:12). Upon their first sight of Job, they began to mourn with him because of his trouble.
We see this process of mourning again after the rape of Tamar in 2 Samuel 13. “But Tamar put ashes on her head, and tore the long robe that she was wearing; she put her hand on her head, and went away, crying aloud as she went” (2 Sam. 13:19).
When the prophet Jonah confronted the people of Nineveh with their sin, the king of Nineveh repented and “rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes” (Jonah 3:6).
After a particularly disturbing vision, the prophet Daniel sought the Lord to confess and repent on behalf of the Israelites. “Then I turned to the Lord God, to seek an answer by prayer and supplication with fasting and sackcloth and ashes” (Dan. 9:3).
So we can see that this idea of using ashes to identify one in repentance or mourning is not unheard of in Scripture; in fact, it was a pretty common practice. As the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday is when people participating in Lent begin their particular Lenten fasts.
The cool thing about Ash Wednesday and the 40 days of Lent is that since neither are specifically mentioned in Scripture, we’re free to prayerfully decide if we’d like to participate. My husband David and I usually participate in an extended period of fasting during Lent, though we don’t always attend an Ash Wednesday service we hope to this year.
Girls, the important thing to remember is that confession and repentance are things Christians should spend time doing every day, not just once a year. Fasting is something that Jesus assumed people would do and He gave very particular instructions on the appropriate way to fast in Matthew 6:16-18. So if you intend to participate in Ash Wednesday and Lent, make sure you keep these things in mind.
“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” – Matthew 6:16-18.
Girls, will any of you be participating in Lent this year?
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