What is the real story about Ash Wednesday? Is it a tradition that man decided to make to observe the beginning of Lent? Is it something Jesus taught about in the Bible? I was extremely curious about what “Ash Wednesday” really is because growing up as a Catholic my family and I always observed by getting ashes on the forehead with a sign of the cross then we would give something up we truly loved for the 40 day Lental period. However I never really understood what this symbolism met nor cared enough to dig deeper into the meaning. Well, now I’m all grown-up and starting to questions about these “traditions” that were instilled in me as a young child by the Roman Catholic Church and family members.
I decided to do my research and this is what I came up with: Ash Wednesday or Lent was not observed in the early New Testament days. Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of Lent started to be observed by Western Christian Churches and other denominations like Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran Churches. Most of these churches did the cross on the forehead to symbolize penance or the death/ sorrow of sins. It was also customary to give up something you “love” to do for those 40 days of Lent or to give back in some way to society. My family and I would normally give up some sort of food we loved or bad habit for those 40 days, while not eating meat on Fridays. It is also suggested that “Lent” may be connected to early pagan holidays, such as the pagan god called Tammuz.
Ash Wednesday and Lent is a nonbiblical observation even though some people do connect it with the 40 days in the desert that Jesus was visited by Satan and Satan tried to tempt him with ZERO success. See the story of this below: from the Gospel of Matthew:
‘Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to the Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John would have hindered him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? But Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffereth him. And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway from the water: and lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon him; and lo, a voice out of the heavens, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ – Matthew 3:13-17
‘Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he afterward hungered. And the tempter came and said unto him, If thou art the Son of God, command that these stones become bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Then the devil taketh him into the holy city; and he set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him, If thou art the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and, On their hands they shall bear thee up, Lest haply thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, Again it is written, Thou shalt not make trial of the Lord thy God. Again, the devil taketh him unto an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and he said unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him; and behold, angels came and ministered unto him. ‘ – Matthew 4:1-11
In conclusion, it is fine to observe this holiday if you would like however keep in mind this is not what Jesus taught us and as a “born again” Christian this is not observed in most Evangelical Christian Churches. My take on Lent is trying to mix some of the good traditions of Lent such as giving up something bad for you in hopes of not indulging in this unhealthy food item or bad habit for good! While remembering that Jesus got baptized by John the Baptiste in the Bible then he when away in the desert He didn’t eat nor drink for 40 days while Satan tried to tempt Him. Of course, we all know that Satan was unsuccessful in doing so which makes Jesus perfect in every way! This just gives me more inspiration to try to be like Jesus more and more each day.
God bless you all on the start of making yourself more like Jesus!