Repentance is asking for forgiveness from God for falling into temptation and sin. The Ash and Sackcloth were used to symbolize the fact that we are of the earth and not worthy of the grace of God. The individual wore the sackcloth and prayed for repentance of sin while covering him/herself in ash. This was a common practice when unable to perform the blood sacrifice for repentance.
Now, before you read further I have to disclose that individuals may be offended, it may cause some backlash of which I will gladly take, and this may make you rethink some things and your eyes opened. But if it is not said, souls may continue down a dark path.
We are unable to cover ourselves for our sin, only God can do that through the sacrifice of the blood of the lamb. Adam and Eve tried to hide and covered themselves with leaves but God saw their sin and covered their nakedness (physically and spiritually) with sheep skin. Abel knew this and sacrificed the innocent firstborn male and best of the flock in repentance. Jesus was sent to us and was the final blood sacrifice necessary to appease God for our sins and His communication line with us became open once again. But God, did allow the ash and sackcloth when one could not sacrifice.
Pouring ash and wearing sackcloth is an act of humility and a penitent heart. God wants our hearts to be clean and filled with Him and His Word. Sin contaminates the heart and pushes God out. Having a clean heart is not easy due to our nature but it is a choice we must make to return to God.
Scripture gives us many different scenes where the Ash and Sackcloth were used in conjunction with prayer when repenting. Here are a few of them: “O daughter of my people, gird on sackcloth, roll in the ashes”, Jeremiah 6:26. In Daniel 9:3, He clothed himself in sackcloth and sprinkled himself in ashes as he pleaded with God in prayer and fasting. In Job 42:6, Job exclaimed, “I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.”
Covering oneself in ash is a Hebrew custom that dates way back in early biblical times. The practice of covering in ash and laying in sackcloth was still used in the early Believer Community and is talked about by the early church fathers in the second century A.D. Somewhere after this it changed.
John W. Fenton wrote, “By the end of the 10th century, it was customary in Western Europe (but not yet in Rome) for all the faithful to receive ashes on the first day of the Lenten fast. In 1091, this custom was then ordered by Pope Urban II at the council of Benevento to be extended to the church in Rome. This destroyed the original intent of the individual recognition of the need and desire for repentance and condensed it to a once a year “celebration”.
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent that consists of a 24 hour fast from sun up to sun up. Lent is the commemoration of Jesus’ 40 day fast in the desert and the defeat of temptation after. The issue I have with the practice is that some who accept the ash, continue their carnal or sinful lifestyles during the whole season and just take it for show. Or they abstain for the season and return to sin after. They really do not repent and if they do it is not sincere because they stay in the world.
Thus leads to the issue with Lent. Lent in this day and age is a total of 46 days and many who practice it just give up something that they know they will pick back up at the end of it. The “fast” is not practiced on Sunday as it is the Lord’s Day. I am not judging but being perfectly clear about this. Abstaining from social media is not a right thing to say when you pronounce, “I am giving (Insert social media name here) for Lent” because you will be right back on it when Lent is over. Giving up things of the world on the short term does not the penitent heart make. The truly penitent will give up something they know is harmful to body and spirit and never go back to it.
FUN FACT: It takes 6 weeks to create a habit and just as long to break it. (6X7=42)
Lent, in original form was a straight up 40 day (no break) penitent fast. Those who needed to repent were given a shirt, covered in ash and could not return to the church for 40 days without food and had to be in consistent and persistent prayer. This has transformed into just giving up a habit or something that a person can live without for 46 days while still doing it on Sunday, leaving it to be 40 days. Those who go back to the habits given up were not truly repenting and were just giving lip service to the symbolism. To truly practice Lent one must go back 40 days from Resurrection Sunday and fast with only water to drink (to keep the body alive), be in constant and persistent prayer, and then have a little feast (not a big one) on Resurrection Day. If you cannot do that then take into account something you do that harms the temple (your body) and give that up for the full 46 days and do not return to the habit. That is repentance.
Ash Wednesday this year falls on February 14th. I bet there will be some who have the Ash on their foreheads that will still take their loved one out to dinner when the fast is to be until morning.
Look, the Bible never mentions the observance of a single day to spread ash for repentance, man came up with that to help those who could not break ungodly habits well after the books were written The intention was and is good but when it is perverted by some, as it has become, it loses its original meaning. God does not need us to set aside 46 days to show that we have a repentant heart, it is a 24 hour a day event. God desires that Self-examination, moderation, giving up of sinful habits, and being repentant from sin be life-long practices for believers. Man’s word and practices are corruptible and will fade, God’s Word is eternal.