Lent: Repentance, Fasting, and Ashes?

by Jonathan Haefs

Today, Ash Wednesday, is the beginning of Lent…a 40 day season. If you’re thinking the math doesn’t work…don’t forget that Sundays don’t count. They’re treated like mini-Easter celebrations.

I grew up without even hearing the word “Lent.” As a matter of fact, when I first heard it I thought someone was talking about “lint.” Imagine my confusion. Perhaps you are unfamiliar with Lent and find yourself wondering what all this talk of repentance, fasting and ashes is about…what does it all mean?

lentLent is meant to be a season that prepares our hearts for the celebration of Easter, much like Advent prepares us for Christmas. Traditionally, such preparation has been sought through focusing on repentance and fasting, which often makes people think Lent is a sad or depressing season…and nothing could be further from the truth!

Repentance and fasting should lead us to JOY in Jesus! Lent should to lead us to the joy of Easter! But, how exactly does that work?

repentanceRepentance reminds us that we are sinful and in need of a Savior.  Without a Savior, we would be left under the just penalty of sin…which is death.  We need someone to defeat our sin by dying in our place…and…we need that person to defeat death by rising again. In other words, we need Jesus…we need Easter.

Focusing on repentance reminds us that we need Easter.

imagesTo many, fasting seems like and outdated ascetic practice reserved for medieval monasteries. How does fasting engage our hearts and reveal our need for Easter?

Fasting, typically, involves removing something that is normally present in your life.  Most commonly it is food, but people also fast from social media, television…nearly anything…but the point is we remove something that leaves a void. You notice that it is gone, and yet, life goes on without it. Our life didn’t depend upon that thing after all.

Fasting reminds us that we are not truly dependent on the things we think we are and helps us realize that we are dependent on Jesus! As our body hungers for food to satisfy our stomach, we are reminded that the only thing that can truly satisfy our deepest hunger, the hunger of our souls, is Christ! He is the one we need…the one who died and rose again to quench the thirst of our hearts and satisfy the hunger of our spirit with himself!

Fasting reminds us that we need Jesus…we need Easter!

And so, after focusing on repentance and fasting for 40 days, by the time Easter gets here, we erupt in celebration that Jesus has conquered our sin and become the satisfaction of our souls!

 Ash Wednesday
ash-wednesdaySo…repentance and fasting are meant to point us toward our need for Easter…but, what is up with the ashes? How does Ash Wednesday help us start this journey towards the joy of the empty tomb?

Ashes are symbol of repentance.  At SVCC, when I put ashes on people’s foreheads I speak the words, “From dust you came and to dust you shall return.”

These words and the ashes remind us that the penalty of sin is death…that we must return to dust.  We need to repent and turn from our sin to our Savior.  And, that is why I do not only speak the words, “From dust you came to dust you shall return…” but that phrase is followed by the instruction, “So repent…and believe the Gospel.”

The Ashes remind us of our sin and it’s penalty, death…but, using them to make the sign of the cross reminds us that we have a Savior to turn to who has defeated sin and death! We use dust, the sign of our deserved death, to make a cross, the sign our death is defeated. It is a beautiful picture of the Gospel. It is a beautiful reminder that repentance is meant to lead us to the cross…to Jesus…to joy in him.

Now there is nothing magical about the ashes. They are a symbol of what is actually taking place in our hearts, namely, that we are acknowledging our sinfulness, repenting, and turning to trust in Jesus.

Without a heart of repentance and faith ashes merely give you a dirty forehead. Yet, when united with a heart of repentance and faith, this external symbol is a powerful means through which God reaffirms what has happened to you… that your death and doom to dust has been conquered by Christ!

This Lent, embrace that truth by faith. Let all your repentance, fasting and ashes lead you to the same place…to the empty tomb where we embrace the resurrected Jesus by faith!

Let Lent lead you to Easter!