Summary: Fasting during Lent and why it’s Biblical.
Lent is a common practice among Christian denominations. In the Eastern churches they consider Advent to be Lent, and the western Lent to be the Great Lent. In most western churches Lent is the 40 days not counting Sundays before Easter. The word Lent comes from the Anglo Saxon word lencten, which means spring. In 325 the council Nicea discussed the Lenten season, but it wasn’t until the time of Gregory the Great that the start of the season was established on a Wednesday.
The 40 days is symbolic of the 40 days Christ was in dessert and the 40 years Moses had to endure before reaching the Promised Land.
Ash Wednesday is the day when Catholics and other similar denominations allow their priests or ministers to put ashes on the parishioners as a symbolic gesture. The ash is made from blessed palm branches the year before. Palm branches are used in the mass in remembrance of Christ entering Jeresalum.
John 12:13 Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed [is] the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord.
The ash is more or less supposed to be in the form of a cross. The minister or priest will take his finger into the ash and make the sign of the cross on the forehead making a cross shape.
Matthew 10:38 And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
Matthew 16:24 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any [man] will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
The taking of the cross is not only taking up the burdens of following Christ but in expressions of the faith. It is an expression of the promise given to us in the End Times.
Revelation 7:3 Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.
So why ash of all things? Ash and dust have high historical significance in scripture. The Prophet Jeremiah requests that the Jewish people express repentance through ashes and sackcloth.
Jeremiah 6:26 O daughter of my people, gird thee with sackcloth, and wallow thyself in ashes: make thee mourning, as for an only son, most bitter lamentation: for the spoiler shall suddenly come upon us.
The Prophet Daniel pleads for Israel by showing as a sign of repentance the use of ashes and sackcloth.
Daniel 9:3 And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes:
The Prophet Jonah warns the people of Nineveh (present day Mosul Iraq), and they do repent in the form of ashes and sackcloth, even the king undergoes this humility and pleads that his people do the same. This act of repentance effectively saves the city from destruction.
Jonah 3:6 For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.
In the book of Judith the use of ashes upon the forehead is shown as a link between the Old Testament and the practices of today.
Judith 4:11 Thus every man and women, and the little children, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, fell before the temple, and cast ashes upon their heads, and spread out their sackcloth before the face of the Lord: also they put sackcloth about the altar,
But why was it important for them to even do this practice at all?
Judith 4:12 And cried to the God of Israel all with one consent earnestly, that he would not give their children for a prey, and their wives for a spoil, and the cities of their inheritance to destruction, and the sanctuary to profanation and reproach, and for the nations to rejoice at.
But more importantly did it work?
Judith 4:13 So God heard their prayers, and looked upon their afflictions: for the people fasted many days in all Judea and Jerusalem before the sanctuary of the Lord Almighty.
The Jewish rebels hoping for success in battle sprinkled ash on their heads as well. In all instances there is mourning and repentance.
1 Maccabees 3:47 They fasted that day, put on sackcloth and sprinkled ashes on their heads, and rent their clothes.
1 Maccabees 4:39 Then they rent their clothes, and mourned with great lamentation, and sprinkled themselves with ashes.
Even Christ makes a reference to the idea of repentance by way of ashes and sackcloth.
Matthew 11:21 Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.