Is Ash Wednesday Biblical? Yes. In what way? In every way. How so? For dozens of verses come together under the heading of this one day that kicks off, perhaps, the most Biblical season of the Church.
Let’s ask a question which might frame this discussion. Is it good for people to come together for an extra day to hear God’s word, sing God’s praises, repent, and begin a corporate fast? YES! These are what Ash Wednesday (and Lent) are about. So, what about those Ashes?
Ashes are to remind us of repentance and mortality. Our forefather Abraham said, “…I who am but dust and ashes” (Genesis 18:27). Joshua and his Elders, “put dust on their heads” (Joshua 7:6). Tamar, who was violated, “put ashes on her head” as she wept through her pain (2 Samuel 13:19). In Nehemiah 9:1 Gods people “were assembled with fasting, in sackcloth, and with dust on their heads…and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.” But wait, there’s more.
Mordecai, whom God used to save Israel, “tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city. He cried out with a loud and bitter cry” (Esther 4:1). Two verses later all the Jews did the same (Esther 4:3). It says of Job in 42:6 that he did, “repent in dust and ashes.” For the Prophet Daniel, “Then I set my face toward the Lord God to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes” (Daniel 9:3). In the book of Jonah God even accepts the Ninevites King who repents the same way Israel did, “and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes” (Jonah 3:6). Jesus recognizes the history of God’s people Israel and the validity of that form of repentance by saying, “Woe to you…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” (Matthew 11:21). But wait, there is still more.
On Ash Wednesday we say, “From dust you came and to dust you shall return.” This exact phrase comes to us from Genesis 3:19 which says, “For out of it you were taken (from the ground). For dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” Few phrases could be truer. In Genesis 2:7 we learn how we started (dust). In Psalm 103:14-16 we learn our end (back to dust), “For he knows our frame. He remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone. And its place remembers it no more.” Ecclesiastes 3:20 makes this clearer, “all go to one place; all are from the dust, and all return to dust.”
Let’s be clear here. I do not think that all Christians everywhere for all time are commanded that they must celebrate Ash Wednesday. What I am saying is that any Christian who does (and many who don’t should be open to it), find themselves on footing that goes back to the beginning where people repent with a reminder of ashes and dust nearby. This special day kicks off our super-biblical focus of Christ’s death (see all the Gospels).
The next time someone asks you if Ash Wednesday (or Lent for that matter) is Biblical. You can say, “It most surely is!”