I grew up in a decidedly non-liturgical home. We were evangelicals, but my father was ordained in the Methodist church, so I’m a bit confused as to why we were so far removed from liturgies…but, such is the case for me.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent for most Western Christian churches who observe liturgical calendars.
I have never observed Lent in my whole life. I honestly didn’t even know for sure what it was until a few years ago. Lent, in case YOU don’t know either, is a period of forty days prior to Easter, where the Christian, in imitation of Christ’s forty day wilderness temptation, observes a time of penitence, fasting, charity and prayer.
People practice the denial of self in a great variety of ways during lent. Some abstain from certain types of food…I have one friend who gave up deserts for forty days (and consequently lost a lot of weight). It was very meaningful for him. I had another friend who quit watching TV for forty days.
Having grown up completely outside the reaches of liturgical observances, recently I’ve become quite fascinated with them. Several years ago, I began the practice of praying the “daily office”, from the Celtic Daily Prayers book. It has had a profound effect on me.
Today is Ash Wednesday, and for the first time ever we will have a small Ash Wednesday service during our Worship Wednesday meeting.
What is this about, you ask? Ash Wednesday is a practice that began in the middle ages – intended as a time for followers of Christ to prepare their hearts for Easter. The main thrust behind the imposing of ashes on a forehead is summed up in REMEMBER, REPENT, and RETURN.
REMEMBER – that we are mortal – from dust we were created and to the dust we return. Material wealth, plastic surgery, advances in science…none of these things can prevent our inevitable death. The ashes connect us with the reality of our finite, human condition.
REPENT – acknowledge that we don’t do this Christian thing very well, and commit our hearts to change. It does the heart a world of good to come clean with God and admit our struggles to him, and appeal for his help in our resolve to live the life he intended for us.
RETURN – the ashes are brushed on the forehead in the shape of the cross. We are mortal and destined for the dust – but the cross changes everything. The cross of Christ, the love of God in action is the only means by which we now have hope of everlasting life. The ashen cross on our forehead bids us to leave off our pursuits of lesser lovers and return to the only source of life there is.
The ashes are supposed to be made of burned palm fronds left over from the previous year’s Palm Sunday service….which, as you know, we didn’t do. However…I did just trim all my palm trees whose fronds were dead from the freeze – so I’m burning those and bringing the ashes.
I think this could be a meaningful service for us. If you’ve never observed Lent – this might be the right launching point. Myself, I’m going to observe it through daily meditations. If you have the You Version Bible app for your phone or tablet, you should check out the daily reading plans they have for Lent. I’m going to use the “Lent for Everybody” by N.T. Wright – but there are others to choose from.
Hope you can make it tonight – and I pray that all of our hearts are more finely tuned to God’s redemption.