I’ve never been one to celebrate ‘traditional’ holidays that date back to the 900s. And I’ve never been one to observe Catholic rituals. After all, much to my poor mother-in-law’s chagrin, I’m not Catholic.
Of course, the Catholic Churches aren’t the only ones dusting their foreheads in ash on this good Wednesday. Many other denominations will be participating in this ritualistic act of repentance.
Truly I am no scholar and I have not a single hour of theology beneath my belt, and to be honest, I may have heard of Ash Wednesday, but only in passing. This time last year was the first I had actually participated, and for the life of me I can’t remember the events of the evening.
My first question whenever I come across a religious ritual is to see if it has any Biblical basis.
Job said in reply to the Lord: I know that You can do everything, That nothing you propose is impossible for You. Who is this who obscures counsel without knowledge? Indeed, I spoke without understanding of things beyond me, which I did not know. Hear now, and I will speak; I will ask, and You will inform me. I had heard You in my ears, But now I see You with my eyes; Therefore, I recant and relent, Being but dust and ashes. Job 42:1-6 (JSB)
Verse 6 in the NIV says: Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.
Of course this is an Old Testament account. It seems to me as if Ash Wednesday is a take on the Jewish Yom Kippur, the 10th day of the Jewish High Holy Days. It’s a day filled with fasting, prayer and repentance. Where the Jewish culture seeks repentance before God on the last day of their Rosh Hashanah (New Year), the Christian culture does so prior to a time leading up to the Passion. The forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter are supposed to represent the time Jesus spent in the desert before he began the gathering of his disciples.
Obviously the number 40 means something in Biblical terms. For Noah it rained for 40 days and 40 nights. Moses wandered in the desert for 40 years and Jesus spent 40 day in the desert being tempted by Satan (Mark 1:13), but that is something to delve into for another day, maybe even tomorrow.
So according to traditions what are the next 40 days supposed to include? Prayer, repentance, taking care of the poor and denying one’s self.
Shall I go into that now? No, I think I’ll save that one for tomorrow, too.
Tonight I will attend Ash Wednesday with some of my favorite people. How about you? How will you spend this day? What does Ash Wednesday mean to you?