Reflection on Ash Wednesday

Lent is my favorite liturgical season. This is an opinion and a worship season that most find odd.

This is the season of penitence, of abstinence, of devotion to boring things like prayer, worship, fasting and community. Some ask why would anyone enjoy or look forward to that?

On the other hand there are those in the world of theology and worship who don't like this season because it confines those acts- devotion to prayer, scripture reading, worship and reconciliation or peace to this 40 days so that we can let ourselves off the hook the rest of the time. 

But I believe both ways of looking at it, both ways of spending Lent don't take God or ourselves seriously enough.  

Tonight was Ash Wednesday worship at church. And every year I seem to find myself heading to this service feeling lazy, or self righteous, or angry, or distracted or just not in the mood. And I leave changed and desperate for this season of reflection to begin. This year is no exception.  

Over the last 6 years I have also had the chance to show up to Ash Wednesday and be the one imposing the ashes, looking in the eyes of half the congregation one at at time and saying "Remember beloved, you came from dust, and to dust you will return". This is a profoundly humbling experience. This year more than previously. It was my first time imposing ashes since I was ordained in July, and many of those who came through my line were the youth and their families who I currently work with every day. And an inordinately large percentage of those families have lost a parent or grandparent in the last 6 months or so. So saying those words, to these people, at this time was not just to acknowledge that we are mortal, sinful, and in need of God's Grace. It was to remind all of us that we have lost, and will lose more in life, and that in God's Grace, and in the company of our fellow people, we can find hope and move forward. 

Another piece that changed how I began Lent was the difference in this service from other Ash Wednesday observances I have participated in. The service the pastor I work with designed moved from ashes, to sermon, to Baptism. We began with corporate confession (as many Presbyterian services do) and imposed ashes as part of that confession, then offered scripture and sermon, and ended with a remembrance of Baptism where the congregation came forward, lit a candle from the Christ candle and placed it still lit in a sand filled vessel, and then the other pastor and I whetted each forehead from the font saying the words "remember, in Baptism you are washed clean by Christ", and then using a white cloth wiped the ashes off each forehead. 

As Christians we know we are sinful, broken people, and that in God's grace that we are born into in baptism we have unearned grace and love forever. This season is, for me, the embodiment of the paradox of following Christ....I will always screw up, I will become distracted by the world, by my own pain and fear, by my own pride and obstinance, this is what it is to be human. But I will also always know love and peace when I return home to the font and the table, when I find community to love and serve, when I find solidarity in God's anger and the need to act in the name of justice, in short when I find myself called and compelled to act as Christ did, when I find myself most closely trying to follow in his steps.

So is Lent a time when many will give up chocolate or Facebook or wine or other physical things, in acts that may seem shallow? yes. Is it a time when we might indulge our own needs in the name of doing what we are called to do for our faith? yes.

But so is every other time of the year. This season offers us all the chance to be real in our faiths, to read or worship or pray or be careful with ourselves in a new way so that the light of Christ might shine in and out of us just a little more. And so does every other season, but this one is the one I love. 


May the Peace of Christ find you,