February brings with it Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. The season marks 40 days of prayer and fasting akin to the 40 days of temptation that Jesus endured in the wilderness before the beginning of his public ministry.
Ashes begin the season. Most followers of Jesus come to church on Ash Wednesday and receive the sign of the cross in ashes on their foreheads as a sign of mourning and repentance to God. I especially appreciate those churches who have a morning service, because those who receive the ashes tend not to wash them off, but to bear the cross throughout the day. It is a wonderful testimony of faith and humility and gives us many opportunities to share Jesus with others during the day.
Sadly though, many consider Ash Wednesday, and other such feast days in the Church calendar, to be “pagan and man-made.” One adherent to “Messianic Judaism” wrote on a blog “Messianic Judaism makes more sense when you celebrate the ‘Feasts of the Lord’ instead of the pagan and man-made traditions of ‘Christmas’ and ‘Easter’ and ‘Ash Wednesday’.”
This fellow, and many within the “Messianic movement,” are myopic when it comes to appreciating the Church calendar. The lessons to be taught and learned are myriad and rich, and the Church is poorer for growing away from the traditions of the early Church. I have begun to notice that many churches that have abandoned such traditions are rediscovering the blessings of the Lenten season.
But the same holds true for the Church as well! We often celebrate the Church calendar and find no value in the various feasts of the Scriptures. And we are poorer for that too. Congregation Chai v’Shalom is blessed to observe the Church calendar and the Festival calendar, and so often we see connections between the two that demonstrate the majesty of God and His infinite mercy.
In early Lent falls the Feast of Esther or Purim. In Esther 4, Mordecai hears of the plot to exterminate the Jews and puts on sackcloth and ashes as he begins fasting and mourning. It is with that same sense that we mourn the “Passover Plot” to kill Jesus. But we understand that just as God preserved the Jewish people in Persia, from whom would come our Savior, he raised our Savior from the dead to preserve us by our faith, to the end that we would live forever. What a great story for Lent. And Purim.