Why celebrate Ash Wednesday? As Non-Denominational believers, I often hear of people struggling with Ash Wednesday. Some suggest the service is too somber, or too Catholic, or not in Scripture. Some object simply because they are not accustomed to practicing Ash Wednesday in our setting. Some earnestly wonder what Biblical precedence there is for its observance. I just wanted to share a little about where it comes from and why we think it is important.
Ash Wednesday is a start of a season- the season leading to Good Friday- the death of Jesus. Easter is a celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Hallelujah! Historically it has been celebrated by a season leading to the remembrance of his death ("Lent", a season of repentance) and then followed by a season of celebration (the Easter season). Both are supposed to be 6 weeks in length.
It is true that there is no command to observe these time periods in Scripture.
However there is also no command to commemorate the birth of Christ, and there is no mention of Christmas in scripture. Christmas was a development of Christian celebration of the birth of Christ in Christian tradition. The same is true of Ash Wednesday, Lent, the Easter season, and also Pentecost. In fact, Ash Wednesday, Lent and Easter were practiced much earlier than Christmas traditions, Holy Spirit Pentecost celebrations, and were associated with the Passover from early church times. So while we in no way command anyone to observe these times, we believe it is helpful to the community of faith.
Why Ash Wednesday and Lent? Consider how God desired to prepare us for Christ's coming- "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!" Matt. 3:2 (See also Matt. 3:1-6, Mark 1:1-8, Luke 3:3-14, John 1:23-29). Of course repentance is not seasonal, but Lent is a time to intentionally and singularly focus on the cross. Ash Wednesday is the day that begins that season, and it is a reminder of our mortality and desperate need for a Savior. This is also the reason we use ash in the sign of the cross, to demonstrate our desperate need for Christ our Savior. Yet, it is never expected or required, simply offered to those that want to receive such a reminder.
Must we do this? Of course not! We celebrate Jesus everyday. We live in resurrection life. But this does not mean we should no longer have an Easter Sunday, or a Good Friday service, and a period of time dedicated to focus on the cross. Paul, who teaches the Corinthian church about the gifts and functions of the Spirit says that he would know nothing except the cross (1 Cor. 2:2, Gal. 6:14). To set time aside to focus on Christ's self-emptying service, suffering, death, and resurrection is helpful, especially in our hurried lives (Phil. 2:7). We use this service and season as a time to consecrate ourselves to the Lord, to develop the inner life of faith, instead of the outer work of ministry and productivity. We focus on deepening our relationship with the Lord, and to take up the habits of prayer and fasting, both on a personal and familial level.
Just as Jolie says, she "celebrates Christmas all year," and considers having a permanent Christmas tree in our living room :), we can delight in a season recognizing the amazing things God has done when we weren't even searching or asking (Rom. 5:8-10; Eph. 2:5; 1 John 4:19).
Come celebrate with us as your faith allows.