|Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? 6 "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? -Isaiah 58:5-7
Although many Churches don’t acknowledge Ash Wednesday (today) or the 40 day LENT period that begins thereafter up till the eve of Easter, but I think that it is very important for all of us to understand what this day and this period means and should mean to us as Christians. (I have compiled information from various sources to help you better understand Ash Wednesday and Lent).
Ash Wednesday (from the Latin Dies Cinerum, meaning "Day of Ashes") is the first day of Lent. On this day, Christians focus intensely on their utter and complete sinfulness and the necessity of Christ's suffering and death to earn their salvation. Ashes are referred to many times in the Old Testament as a sign of sorrow, mourning, humility, and repentance (see 2 Samuel 13:19; Esther 4:1-3; Job 42:6; and Jeremiah 6:26). Many churches use ashes during Ash Wednesday worship as part of a rite called the Imposition of Ashes. According to this ancient custom, ashes (traditionally made by burning palm fronds used on Palm Sunday of the previous year) are mixed with a small amount of olive oil and applied to the forehead of each worshipper. This mark, in the sign of a cross, can be a powerful reminder of our depraved and sinful nature and total dependence on God for forgiveness and salvation.
For some Christians, the coming of Lent means preparing for some kind of fasting. These fasts typically take the form of abstaining from all or certain kinds of food on a particular day. In place of a food fast, some Christians commit to give up a pleasurable activity or take on some kind of charitable work or other added discipline. Our Lord recommends the Lenten disciplines of helping the needy, prayer, and fasting in Matthew 6:1-18. If Christians choose to "give up" something for Lent as a way to witness to the world the salvation Christ won for us by His suffering and death on the cross, then it is a commendable discipline that should be encouraged. However, it is essential to remember that nothing we do through fasting, self-denial, or good works can ever earn God's forgiveness or "pay Him back" for what He accomplished for us. Lent is not about our giving up something to please God. Lent is about what Christ gave up to pay the penalty for our sins -- His life.
So what is this period going to mean to you? I am not trying to impose these beliefs on anyone, but I believe that it is of the essence to understand why some Christians observe this period. You may argue that we shouldn’t wait till a certain time to do these things (such as fasting, caring for others, etc), and I agree. But by the same token, we can use this period to obligate ourselves to the consecration of our bodies and spirit.
Stay blessed and spread the word.