So, tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent for those who belong to “high church,” liturgical denominations. On Ash Wednesday, the ashes of palm leaves leftover from the previous year’s Palm Sunday are applied to the forehead of the supplicants by a priest or minister in the sign of a cross. The ashes are meant to signify repentance and mortality. Adherents then engage in some form of fasting for the following forty-day Lenten period (not including the six Sundays) prior to Easter.
In predominantly Catholic countries or areas, the population has a pre-Lenten celebration known as Mardi Gras aka Carnival, Fat Tuesday, Shrove (“Confess”) Tuesday, etc., etc., usually the day before Ash Wednesday. The idea is to overindulge carnal appetites before the obligatory period of fasting.
I was raised in Roman Catholicism and I remember really looking forward to Ash Wednesday as a parochial school student. We were all quite proud of the prominent ashes on our foreheads although we didn’t really appreciate what they were supposed to signify. The big question at the time was what each of us was going to “give up” for Lent. As I recall the hurdle was not very high. Even back then I remember thinking that Mardis Gras seemed very hypocritical. Engaging in unrestrained revelry prior to Lent seemed to cancel out any good that might have come from any subsequent repentance and fasting.
I left Catholicism and accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior way back in the early 80s. Our first Bible-believing church was very “low church” Baptist and that’s what I’m most comfortable with. I’m definitely not a fan of liturgies and liturgical calendars. Just give me faith-filled worship singing and solid, expositional preaching every Sunday! No need to celebrate seasons and feast days. No need for set periods of repentance. No need for set periods of celebration. Every day in the Lord is the same. Believers confess to Him every day and praise Him every day for His mercy and lovingkindness.
I understand many people really love their liturgies and rituals. They take great comfort in familiar worship routines. Hey, if you’ve accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior and the liturgical services you attend uphold the Good News of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone then I say have at it! Unfortunately, a large number of “high church” adherents substitute routine, ritual, and liturgy in place of a personal, saving relationship with Jesus Christ. There’s much in liturgicalism that promotes the belief in works salvation.
But in one sense I actually think those ashes on people’s foreheads might be a good thing. The Lord will no doubt use them to remind some of the supplicants that we are all mere mortals destined for the graveyard and judgment for sin. We are all sinners before a Holy God and no one will be able to justify themselves by the “good” they’ve done.
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.” – Mark 10:18
But God loved us so much he sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to this world to pay the penalty for our sins on the cross. Jesus conquered sin and death when He rose from the grave! Yesssss! Praise Him forever! He offers everyone the free gift of eternal life and fellowship with God. Will you accept Him?
What is the meaning of Lent?