Luke 24:46-47 ¶ Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”
One of the amazing things about Carnival season in New Orleans is the way it ends. There is an annual tradition that happens promptly at midnight on Mardi Gras evening. Just at the stroke of twelve, the New Orleans police ride down Bourbon Street on horseback to clear the streets, followed closely behind by the street sweepers. Why the ceremonial “cleansing” of the streets of fallen down drunks and the filth of the weeks of revelry? Why it’s Ash Wednesday of course, the beginning of lenten season. After all, the day God forgot is over and now He suddenly remembers. We must clear the streets and head for the nearest church to put ashes on our head, I hardly think the Lord is impressed.
It has not always been that way. Originally lent was a time of fasting and reflection for the Christian community in preparation for the Easter celebration coming in just forty days. Now, repentance is just an after thought, of course the real holiday is Mardi Gras. Wikipedia has an interesting description of Ash Wednesday, check this out.
“The traditional purpose of Lent is the penitential preparation of the believer—through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, and self-denial. Its institutional purpose is heightened in the annual commemoration of Holy Week, marking the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the events of the Passion of Christ on Good Friday, which then culminates in the celebration on Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
True repentance is not just a casual attempt at giving something insignificant up for forty days. Repentance is a long hard look at our lives. It is turning away from a life focused on sinful pleasures. Repentance is turning toward God and finding Him as the source of our life. As we head toward this Easter season, maybe we should return to the ancient Christian practice of reflecting on the sufferings our Savior which He endured when He was beaten at the whipping post and nailed to the Roman cross. As we reflect on His cruel death, the Holy Spirit will often remind us of why He died. He died to save sinners. He died for sinners like me. As the Spirit convicts us of our sins, He also begins to perform in us an awesome supernatural work. What is that work? It is called repentance. By the power of the Spirit He enables us to turn from our sins and turn toward this loving Heavenly Father. In a moment of time our heart is changed. We are suddenly freed from the oppressive attraction to the pleasures of this world, a miracle has happened inside of us. Our hearts have changed. So this year, maybe you can get more than ashes on your head for lent, maybe, by the grace of God, you can receive a new heart.