Ash Wednesday

To those who are not informed, Ash Wednesday and Lent is a very strange time.  It’s a time where people walk around one Wednesday with dirt on their forehead, eat fish on Fridays, and give up sweets or other things that they like.
Tonight, we’re going to take a look at what this season is and why it is observed.  We’ll find that it is an honorable and worthy season to observe and one that we should observe within our lives at all times.  This season isn’t found directly in scripture like some of the ordinances that we follow such as communion or baptism, however, it is based on such seasons which are found in scripture.
Lent, or Lenten, is the 40 day period prior to Easter.  It is a season of preparation.  Personally, I view Lent as being a season like the one lead by John the Baptist as he prepared the way for Jesus.  It’s a season of reflection of our lives and the sacrifice made by Jesus.  Trademark practices of the Lent season are fasting, prayer, and giving.
We see similar seasons of preparation as God lead Israel through the desert preparing them to enter the promised land for 40 years.  During Noah’s time in the ark, it rained for 40 days.  We also see this season of preparation as Jesus fasted 40 days in the wilderness before beginning His earthly ministry.  We also see that Jesus presented Himself to believers over the course of 40 days after He has resurrected prior to the day of Pentecost.  Lent is a season for us to prepare the way for the Lord in our lives in much the same way.  It’s a season where we push aside distractions in our lives and focus on Jesus.  We make sacrifices remembering and honoring the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus gave for us.
The ever common Friday fish fries and fish value meals found at restaurants during the Lent season, where did it come from?  Well, from what I could determine, this came from the Catholic church’s Code of Canons where they are to abstain from meats on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays during lent and Good Friday.  They define meat as being the flesh and organs of mammals and foul, therefore fish are permissible.
Ash Wednesday, which is observed today, is the first day of Lent.  Traditionally, the palms used during Palm Sunday are burned and the ashes used to make a cross on the forehead.  The ashes can be wiped away immediately or worn all day to stand as a witness to others.  Ash Wednesday serves two purposes.
The first is to remind us of our mortality.  From dust we were formed, and to dust we will return.
God reminded Adam of this after he had sinned:
Genesis 3:19
By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.
The second is to remind us of our need to continuously repent of our sins.  We find throughout scripture that sackcloth, dust, and ashes were all commonly used as signs of repentance for sin.
After God rebuked Job, Job replied:
Job 42:2-6
2 “I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
3 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.
4 “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.’
5 My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
6 Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.”
We even find a specific example where ashes are placed on the head as a sign of sin and shame.
After David’s son Admnon raped his sister Tamar:
2 Samuel 13:19
Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornate robe she was wearing. She put her hands on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went.
Jesus also said regarding the cities in which He performed most of His miracles:
Matthew 11:20-21
20 Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent.  21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
So, hopefully this serves to briefly explain and provide an overview of what Ash Wednesday and the Lent season are all about and why and how they are observed.  All are encouraged to observe this Lent season and to prepare the way in their life as a place for God to dwell; a temple of His Holy Spirit.