THE ANSWER IS A QUESTION
So you might be wondering if a Christian/Hebraic thinker like me will observe Ash Wednesday or Lent. You may be even more puzzled when I say to you that the answer could be “yes” or it could be “no.”
What on earth would that mean? I’ll be like Jesus and answer you with another question: Do you understand the meaning and symbolism represented by Ash Wednesday and Lent?
OUTWARD APPEARANCES CAN BE DECEPTIVE
Sometimes in the middle of winter, we might see some people walking around with smudged ashes on their foreheads. Many of us wonder what on earth is going on; or we try to politely tell these oblivious people that they have something on their foreheads that they need to tend to. Little do we realize that is an open door for these people with the smudges to smile and give us their testimony.
On the other hand; If you don’t bring it up; neither will they.
For many of us who were raised different; this is a very curious phenomenon.
We are caught off guard and don’t really grasp any of the symbolism that is walking around before us.
It is a perfect picture of how most of us go through daily life with blinders on; ignoring the truth of God even when it reaches out and hits us in the face.
I grew up Baptist. I can remember being a child and seeing someone with ashes on their forehead and thinking they just got real dirty and didn’t wash their face and I would think that they would probably be embarrassed to know how nasty they looked walking around like that in public. I never knew the significance of Ash Wednesday until years later when I started attending services at an Episcopal Church.
Before my eyes were opened to the reason for the ashes; I rented a home from an older Catholic/ Italian couple. One day I went to take over the rent check and the sweet little elderly lady comes to the door with a huge black smudge on her forehead. I didn’t say anything because I figured she had been cleaning her house before I arrived unexpectedly at her door. I gave her the rent check and she invited me inside to introduce me to a type of old German cake recipe she had cooked. The batter of the cake was deep fried and the top of it was covered with powdered sugar. She also had some other cakes that she had cooked in molds with pretty designs on them. She feed me this cake and we chatted about how good God is to us. She sent the extra cakes home with me. Now, all these years later when I think of that day; I smile and know she had just started Lent. Her cakes were left over from the day before and she fed them to me because she could not indulge. She was still fasting for the first day of Lent. She wanted to remove all the temptations from her home by giving them to me. I’m not sure that was truly what the season of Lent was all about; and now years later I still laugh when I think of how gullible I was for this crafty little old lady. I went home with the cakes singing her praises to my husband.
WHEN MY EYES WERE OPENED
A few years later I became involved with the Episcopal Church, then the Catholic Church through a work arrangement. I then understood more about what the woman was doing that day; and I watched and participated with all the others around me as one after one we took ashes on our foreheads as a testimony of dying to ourselves and living to Christ. I learned that the real meaning of the season of Lent was all about giving up your humanity and having faith that The Resurrection of Christ will bring you to a higher life.
WHEN MY EYES WERE OPENED EVEN WIDER
Many more years have passed now, and I have evolved into being more of a nondenominational Hebraic-thinking Christian in my religious affiliations; I find I sometimes miss the annual Ash Wednesday and Lent observances, and even though I have thoughtfully and studiously chosen to observe the Hebraic Holy Days from a Christian perspective, I sometimes join in with them.
Some years I choose to still observe Ash Wednesday and Lent right along with my Episcopal and Catholic friends; though I do not do so out of guilt or obligation; and I don’t feel guilty in the years that I decide not to observe. I have leaned over the years that Lent is not commanded by God. It actually isn’t even mentioned as an observance in the scriptures at all.
We know from historical studies that the whole idea of Lent was actually started by a monk many years ago, and possibly evolved from his own personal studies of those observing the original Holy Days of God which we find in the scriptures of Exodus. This Catholic Monk merely put some of the same or similar practices and meditations of the Hebrews into a different time of the year than the Hebraic observances that are similar and he then added the imposition of Ashes to be more symbolic. Ashes have always been, since the ancient days, a biblical symbol of showing repentance and morning for the human condition of mankind. Many prophets expressed themselves by sitting in sackcloth and ashes.
MY PERSONAL OPINION AND DECISION ABOUT OBSERVING LENT
I don’t feel this man-founded day is a requirement of God; but I don’t think God minds it either.
Actually, I think God truly appreciates ANY time when we humans make an effort to remember to be conscious of our sins and take out time to sincerely work on repentance and confession and try to set our minds and hearts to the mode of overcoming. God loves for our souls to pursue things that are holy. Lent and Ash Wednesday, though not proclaimed to be holy days or times, are days that are types of observance of repentance and confession and self-denial. They speak of dying to one’s self and the ways of the world and of being humble before God.
Ash Wednesday actually marks the first day of Lent. Lent begins 40 days of waiting in prayer, meditation and fasting before God. Hoping for the coming of Resurrection.
I celebrate the Hebraic time of Passover, Early First Fruits and Unleavened Bread, which often comes at different times from the Catholic Church calendar. I have chosen to follow the calendar that God gave to the Hebrews at the beginning of time, the one He reminded them to keep with the Manna from Heaven and the observance of the seven Holy Days mentioned in Exodus. They are counted by the phases of the moon.
The Catholic Church (and the world as a whole has changed the calendar. They observe phases of time that go by the movement of the sun. This is often very different in the counting; letting Passover and Resurrection days of some years of those observing the Hebraic calendar co-exist at the same time and some years to be different in timing.
The observance of Lent in the modern day church lasts for 40 days, and it is a time for meditating and examining one’s heart and thinking the way through the calendar annually to remember the steps of Christ as He approached the Crucifixion. It is a time of hopefulness and a time leading up to a joyous celebration of The Resurrection of Christ.
The accuracy of the calendar often gets skewed if you want to be accurate in your counting and remembering; but the hearts are usually always sincere and in the right place. It is a time to reflect and grow closer to God.
It is a time to make little sacrifices in daily living to show love and devotion to God.
It is a time to put extra effort into prayerful fasting and repentance with penance.
Are these not all good things?
Who would forbid such an attitude toward God?
Not me! The observance of Ash Wednesday and Lent doesn’t bother me at all; though it is a man-made day and not a God-proclaimed observance. I see and recognize that fact; but I also see people humbling themselves before God. Such actions will always be in fashion in my part of the world. If they want to do this 24/7 – all the better! It could only make the world a better place in which to live.
40 DAYS OF FASTING AND REMEMBERING OUR HUMANITY
During these days observers are often reminded to reflect on the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting in the dessert. It was a time that He was tempted by Satan and he overcame Satan by The Word of God. So many real life lessons are contained in following and reflecting on the patterns that Jesus set for us during this time. Lent can also be a time of great learning about how to properly live out our lives before God.
So; on the first day of Lent, ashes are imposed on the foreheads of the faithful as a reminder that they are mere humans who will live and die one day. The ashes appear in the shape of a cross and they are worn all of the first day of Lent without washing as a testimony to the fact that we humans come from ashes (the dust of the earth) and we shall one day return to ashes.
These ashes remind us of our own humanity; which emphasizes the fact that without God in our lives we are really nothing at all.
BECOMING MARKED FOR GOD
The mark on the forehead also provokes many other thoughts.
Some people remember how Cain, an unrepentant sinner, was marked by God. Cain did not repent nor did he consider bringing the proper sacrifice that God commanded to redeem his sins. Because of this he was doomed to live with the mark of his sins upon him until the day that he died. Cain was living in total rebellion all the days of his life. He was determined to put himself and his own desires above the desires of God. Cain is a study in contrast to the person desiring to observe the process of Lent. I can assure you the mark on Cain’s forehead was not in the shape of a cross. I also consider that those carrying out Ash Wednesday and Lent as simply a meaningless ritual, not backed up by real prayer and repentance and sacrifice and turning; are very similar in nature to Cain.
The mark of God on the forehead of a repentant sinner represents a changed person. It says they belong to God and are now following God. The whole idea of the season is to remember NOT to be like Cain, but to examine your heart and repent of any un-repented sins before the day that celebrates The Resurrection of Christ, who IS the miracle provided by God that saves our souls from death and merely returning to the dust of the earth.
OUR CALENDARS ARE STILL DIFFERENT
The big difference in what I think we should observe and what the Catholic and other churches are observing is based on the days of the calendar; not necessarily the practices taking place. Much of the work of the soul that my Catholic and Episcopal friends go through at Lent are the things that I actually begin during the Fall Holy Days of God in the season of Elul (the 40 days leading up to The 10 Days of Awe that contain Rosh Hashannah (also called Feast of Trumpets) and The Day of Atonement (also called Yom Kippur). These previous days are my days of meditation, repentance, penance and turning. These other “times” are very similar to Lent in nature. If you wish to read more about the time of Elul; you may find information here: https://theinseasonlifestyle.com/loving-the-month-of-elul-seasons/.
While others are trying to repent and come clean before their celebration of the Resurrection; I am trying to repent and come clean before the time of the application of Atonement. I see Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) as a shadow of the work Jesus did on the cross in the crucifixion. This time speaks of the Atonement, required to obtain resurrection on Resurrection Day. If you wish to know more about The Day of Atonement from a Christian/Hebraic perspective; you may read more here: https://theinseasonlifestyle.com/a-christian-observance-of-yom-kippur-the-day-of-atonement-seasons/. Of course, I also celebrate Resurrection Day (which I call The Day of First Fruits. I explain that here: https://theinseasonlifestyle.com/seasons-celebrating-early-first-fruits-during-passover-week-in-gods-spring-holy-days/ ) during the Passover week. Again; the Hebraic calendar and the calendar of the Catholic church will be different on most years.
Though the number of days are not as long as the time of Lent; I ALWAYS celebrate The Seven Days of Unleavened Bread during Passover week. This is yet another way and time of considering the penalty of my sins pondering how to put them out of my life and how to put more of Christ into my life. Here again is a practice similar to Lent in nature; yet Unleavened Bread is spoken of in the scriptures where Lent is not spoken of at all. God gave the seven days of unleavened bread as days to remember and commemorate; where a Monk from centuries gone by came up with the idea of Lent. It was a good idea; an idea I’m not opposed to and consider harmless; but none-the-less; a man-made idea. If you wish to know more about this God-given idea called Unleavened Bread; you may read more about it here: https://theinseasonlifestyle.com/seasons-why-do-we-keep-the-seven-days-of-unleavened-bread/.
The Hebraic celebration of Unleavened Bread is very similar to the observance of Lent only shorter in length. Unleavened Bread was God-given. It is something that is commanded; something that we should not skip. You can read about this in the book of the bible called Exodus. God told us to observe the days of Unleavened Bread and The Passover forever as a remembrance of what He has done for us. Lent involves fasting and Unleavened Bread is also a type of fast. So many of these days have the same underlying truths and symbols; yet I feel the original Hebraic observances and times are actually more authentic to the scriptures, and they have become customary with me instead of Lent. I guess I choose to stick with what God commanded instead of what man commanded; but I am not against correct forms of worship in any given time or season.
So if I decide to join in and observe Lent on some seasons, much of the spiritual housekeeping of my adopted Jewish heart has already taken place; especially since I observe the Seven Days of Unleavened Bread and Early First Fruits during the Passover season, when I am reminded to purge the leaven from my life. Leaven represents sin.
ANOTHER MAN-ORDAINED HOLIDAY
Other well known Hebraic Fast days are tied in even before that time of Unleavened Bread in the time leading up to Purim at The Fast of Esther. This fast is also an optional choice for me. The same logic applies. Purim is a man-ordained holiday; and it wasn’t directly mandated by God. The history of Purim happened many years AFTER God gave the holy days; therefore it would have been illogical for God to have appointed this as a time of observance before the history of what is being observed had even happened. That doesn’t make the observance wrong; it just falls on a day that man chose to celebrate; for godly reasons. Nothing wrong with that – it is still a time of celebrating the blessings of worshiping The One And Only Great God of The Universe. So; optional or not – I usually celebrate Purim.
Basically by the time everyone else gets around to this housecleaning time of the soul that men have called Lent; I’ve already been practicing those same exercises and observances in many different ways and many different days all through the year through keeping God’s appointed Holy Days as well as some of men’s appointed holidays; but it never hurts to be thorough when it comes to your soul and eternity – so I often chose to join in and go through Lent with my friends, even though I do not feel this is actually required or commanded directly by God. What could it hurt?
I think we all can agree the important thing is to be sure you DO repent, during any time or season. The Christian way of life is the way of repentance. This is what really matters. After all, repentance should actually be a DAILY observance for all Christians, and these extra; though not commanded seasons of examination, can help us to stay aware of what God expects from us all through the year. It also expresses one’s desire to please God and to offer up sacrifices that are pleasing to Him.
THE ONE WRONG WAY TO OBSERVE LENT
There is one wrong way to observe Lent though. If you come bringing your sacrifices thinking they make you a better person; you are wrong. Only the cleansing blood of Christ can heal us from our sins. Honoring God and submitting humbly to His will and ways is one thing; but you can’t earn your way into God’s good grace. Only Christ can save us from ourselves. If you are observing Lent as a way to climb a ladder of human achievements that will one day get you into heaven; you are in for a rude awakening. Wake up now before it gets too late. Nothing we do works. Only God can save us; only Jesus can cleanse us. Repent; confess; turn and live it out. Do it daily then you don’t have to juggle a calendar and wonder what day you should observe. You will always be ready to face God and eternity.
LEARNING FROM EVERY SEASON
Seasons come and go and what do we learn from them?
How do we keep our observances pure with the right intentions toward God?
A key element is to let God lead your mind and heart to where He wants your spiritual awakenings to be. It is best to start any significant season of meditation and reflection with prayer that asks for clarity and guidance and truth.
Every year should be a little different in some way, because God doesn’t have us living stagnant lives. We should be building our characters upon the foundations that he lays within our hearts, improving every year and changing and transforming to God’s image more and more as we go further and further on the journey of the Christian life.
We learn in stages, as we go through daily living with God as our guide and Christ as our Redeemer. Our lives and days are full of varied things to learn, yet, all of God is constant and never changing no matter what time or season we are currently living through.
THE SIGN OF THE CROSS
So the ashes are imposed and the mark on the forehead is put there in the shape of a cross.
It is the cross that makes the mark of Ash Wednesday so different from the mark of Cain.
Here the faithful have their counter-mark, their identification in the sign of the cross as being servants of The Most High God. Instead of being marked as rebellious sinners; they are marked for their imperfect but humble desire to live in total submission to God’s will.
Because of a cross.
A cross that held a suffering servant named Jesus.
The cross speaks of His crucifixion and our salvation.
WHY THE FOREHEAD?
It is also interesting that the ashes are imposed on the forehead as opposed to any other part of the body. They are placed right over the brain, the part of us that thinks and considers the things of life.
When God captures a heart, the process usually starts in the mind before making its way down to the heart.
MARKS DO CARRY SIGNIFICANCE
Remember how God called Abraham to “mark” his own people through the act of circumcision? Today we consider that one who decides to live in God’s Kingdom and pursue God’s ways with all of his heart is marked of God through the circumcision of the heart.
Could this marking of the heart, so symbolic of perfect love and obedience to God, be the next step that comes to reside within us after the marking of the mind?
What stays and resides inside the mind eventually shows up and proceeds outward in actions that come straight from the heart which show the heart’s true colors of either love or hate.
We are in constant need of the Word of God to mark our minds.
Is your mind marked with the words of the Holy Scriptures?
We are in constant need of the love of God to mark our hearts.
Is your heart marked with the love of God?
With the marking of the ashes we are also symbolically reminded of a passage of scripture found in Ezekiel 9 which speaks of The Glory of God instructing a man with a writing kit in his hands to go about Jerusalem marking the foreheads of the people who have lamented and wept or grieved over the detestable things that have happened in the city. Instructions were given for everyone who did NOT have this mark to be killed, showing no mercy.
THE MAN WITH THE WRITING KIT
Most people interpret this passage found in Ezekiel Chapter 9 to be a prophetic and futuristic vision of Jesus Christ being the “man with the writing kit”.
The “writing kit” is symbolic of The Lamb’s Book of Life, and it is only Christ who has the authority over this book. There He has recorded those who have given their souls over to Him and He has written their names down in his book and blotted out their sins (which were recorded too) with the covering of his blood.
Let’s look at that passage a little closer, thinking of how a person can be “marked” of God.
Let’s read that passage to be sure of what it is telling us in prophecy:
Ezekiel Chapter 9:
Then I heard him call out in a loud voice, “Bring near those who are appointed to execute judgment on the city, each with a weapon in his hand.” And I saw six men coming from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with a deadly weapon in his hand. With them was a man clothed in linen who had a writing kit at his side. They came in and stood beside the bronze altar. Now the glory of the God of Israel went up from above the Cherubim, where it had been and moved to the threshold of the temple. Then the LORD called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.”
As I listened, he said to the others, “Follow him through the city and kill, without showing pity or compassion. Slaughter the old men, the young men and women, the mothers and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark. Begin at my sanctuary. “So they began with the old men who were in front of the temple. Then he said to them, “Defile the temple and fill the courts with the slain. Go!” So they went out and began killing throughout the city. While they were killing and I was left alone, I fell facedown, crying out, “Alas Sovereign LORD! Are you going to destroy the entire remnant of Israel in this outpouring of your wrath on Jerusalem?” He answered me, “The sin of the people of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great; the land is full of bloodshed and the city is full of injustice. They say, ‘The LORD has forsaken the land; the LORD does not see.’ So I will not look on them with pity or spare them, but I will bring down on their own heads what they have done. “Then the man in linen with the writing kit at his side brought back word, saying, “I have done as you commanded.
So what does this passage found in Ezekiel that speaks of a “mark” on the forehead mean?
I think it speaks of final judgment, and I clearly notice that those marked by Jesus receive mercy and pardon from the other evil sinners of the earth.
THE HEART IS WHAT MATTERS
So whether or not we celebrate Lent in any shape, form or fashion in our lives; the truth is that a day of judgment is coming and the whole earth will receive the wrath of God; except those who have the mark of Christ covering them. It does not matter which ritual you chose to follow to show the world the shape of your heart during this season; what matters is that your heart is marked and circumcised by Christ.
Are you marked by Him?
A smudge of ashes in the shape of a cross applied by a priest means nothing if you do not have your soul right with THE HIGH PRIEST OF HEAVEN; Jesus Christ. Do you know him?
Has he circumcised your heart?
Are you marked for God’s Kingdom and not the world?
Are you covered in the blood of Christ that assures your pardon from your many sins?
Now is the time.
This is the hour of salvation.
This is the season to draw near to God. Judgment day will come. I pray that we all are ready and that our focus is clearly glued to the light of Christ which leads us to our heavenly home with God the Father.
In one sense these people marked of God ARE like Cain in that they are protected from death. The reasons though are very different. They are protected because they have been faithful and true. Cain was protected so that he could suffer enough to possibly see his own sins and change. It never happened. God always allows us these times to consider our sins and He is patient as He waits to see if we will change. Some of us remain in sin, like Cain, but those of us who are willing to humble ourselves and change eventually reap unimaginable blessings in eternal life.
NOW YOU KNOW
Lent will soon began and many of God’s people on the earth will start this process of sorting out their lives. Now you know when you see the marks on people’s foreheads; what they are doing and why they do it. You may also see some Hebraic people like me not eating bread and cleaning the leaven out of their homes before Passover. Now you will know what WE are doing. Other faithful people will have no outward sign for you to see. It will be a mark hidden inside their heart.
Have you noticed all the people that desire to honor God with their actions?
They are not ashamed.
Have you noticed the faithful?
They are not afraid of being judged by the people of the world.
More importantly, have you noticed the mark of love and kindness from a neighbor or a friend? That too might be symbolic of the mark of Christ over their heart. Some sacrifices involve giving instead of giving up. Sometimes, during this process called repentance God leads people to make changes in how they relate to their fellowman as well as how they relate to God.
WHAT IS THE SIGN OF YOUR HEART?
Whatever customs we follow and however we observe them today; in the end we will all be marked, one way or the other.
Which way will you chose and what will be the sign over your heart?
Will the things that you have been taught in your head sink down into your heart and spirit and spill out to others in the world or will you be like Cain and turn your face away?
We all have a choice.
The mark comes from God, but the meaning of it is found within our own souls.
What will your mark look like?
What will be the sign in your own life of who you choose to follow?