Tag Archives: Ash Wednesday

Lent Drawing to a Close

As Lent draws to a close, I’ve had a chance to reflect on its value to the Christian life. For me it has offered a time of personal introspection, something I don’t do enough of.  Ash Wednesday’s reminder of “Remember that dust you are, and to dust you shall return,” based on Genesis 3:19, are sobering words, not easily ignored. Ongoing events in my life are constantly reminding me of my mortality. Lent provided the proper framework to let it all sink in.  Maybe the same is true for you.

I’ve been blessed, as I wrote last week, by participating in a single church’s Lenten soup suppers and talks on Wednesday evening. St. Mary’s Episcopal Church offered great soup, incredible Christian fellowship, and meaningful talks. Last night, Rector Michael Burke concluded these Lenten evenings with a history-based talk about the meaning of Holy Week and the various days observed during it.  He began with a discussion centering around a handout relating to the liturgical calendar of the church year.  The various cleansing ceremonies in the early church were then explained including full immersion baptism after one learned more about the faith for three years.  Candidates renounced their sin, fears, and the evil powers of this world, and were immersed three times. This was done once a year at the time our current Easter falls. Rector Michael mentioned he tries to do the same at St. Mary’s each year, and if possible to lead the congregation in a renewal of their baptismal vows.

Burke concluded this informative time with the Eucharist. Using the rudimentary service contained in the didache, a brief anonymous early Christian treatise dated to the first century, we shared the bread and wine around the circle, a most meaningful experience.

A pastor friend introduced me to Rev Dr Jill F Bradway, First American Baptist Church’s new pastor, explaining she introduced her congregation to Lent starting with Ash Wednesday. She describes her experience with it at her church.

“I’ve been in Anchorage for 5 weeks. I came right at the beginning of the Lenten season. It has been a new experience for the congregation. I hope more will choose to make the journey next year.

“Lent isn’t something that most Baptists observe. We wake up to the season around Holy Week, celebrating Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter! And as wonderful as that is, it misses the opportunity to enter more intentionally into the disciplines of prayer, self-reflection, and repentance.

“While a Master of Divinity student at Colgate Rochester Divinity School, I saw my Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Episcopal counterparts participating in Lenten exercises. It made ask myself the question, “What do they know that I don’t?” And so, I began to ask questions of them, to observe their special services, and finally to look at Baptist polity to see if there was anything to keep me from adopting these practices into my own life and ministry. Expanding my understanding to include the significance of Lent has added an unexpected richness to my spiritual journey.

Many more Baptists and other evangelicals are exploring Lent and its meaning in the Christian walk. I wish Rev. Bradway and her congregation well as they do their own personal exploration. This year, Ash Wednesday at St. John United Methodist Church was my Lenten beginning. Many Anchorage churches have ushered this poor soul into the meaning of Lent for which I am truly grateful.

 

If you don’t already observe Lent, consider giving traditions a try

Two and a half weeks ago, Lent began for a large portion of Christianity with Ash Wednesday (Orthodox churches begin observing Lent on March 13). Some local Lutheran, Methodist, and Episcopal clergy brought “ashes to the people” in downtown Anchorage that day. I applaud this approach because it brings clergy to the people, instead of people expecting to have to go to clergy. This may be Christianity at its best.

“Sharing ashes on the street is an opportunity for Christians to practice very public theology, said participant Nico Romeijn-Stout, pastor of discipleship and social justice at St. John United Methodist Church and one of those clergy. “Our practice was to take a moment with each person asking their name and how we can be in prayer with and for them. Even in a short moment a relationship was formed. What was striking for me was that the only people who received ashes from me were a couple of homeless men. One said that he hadn’t been ‘blessed’ in years. When we take the risk to do ministry with people where they are, we meet Christ in profound ways.”

Taking “ashes to the street” did not substitute for the Ash Wednesday services those clergy later held in their own churches.

Many Catholic clergy feel ashes should be applied in the church as a rite.

“We take ashes to the homebound, but the distribution of ashes is best done in the sacred assembly at Mass,” said St. Benedict’s Rev. Leo Walsh. “Catholics understand Lent, and all the associated rites, as a communal act of penance by the whole believing community. “It’s possible those attitudes may change over time, as I’m noticing an increasing numbers of news stories of Catholic and Episcopal clergy taking ashes to the street.

Regardless of how one receives their ashes, on the street, in bed, or at church, this rite is an awe-inspiring moment in which one can take stock and recognize we’re mortal and will return to dust.

During my personal preparation for Lent I came across an excellent guide prepared by the Society of St. Andrew, which sponsors a gleaning ministry for food rescue and feeding the hungry. The society’s 44-page downloadable PDF guide offers a wealth of Scripture, reflections, and prayers for Lent.

During Lent many churches host extra evening services or other activities.

First Congregational Church is conducting Tuesday evening Taizé-style services at 5:30 p.m. through March 22. The services will include music, chants, times of silence and readings from the Bible and other sources, but no sermons or discussion.

Many more churches’ Lent activities are offered on Wednesday evenings. Central Lutheran Church has soup suppers, study, and a service through March 16. All Saints Episcopal Church offers a soup supper at 6 p.m. followed by a lesson on spiritual gifts. St. Mary’s Episcopal Church is having Lenten soup suppers at 6 p.m. followed by a discussion on the intersection of Lenten themes and immigration. First United Methodist Church is serving Lenten suppers through March 30 at 6 p.m. with a Lenten study following. Anchorage Lutheran Church offers Lenten worship at 7 p.m. with supper at 6 p.m. Gloria Dei Lutheran Church provides a soup supper and fellowship at 5:45 p.m. followed by Holden Evening Prayer worship at 6:30 p.m. Joy Lutheran in Eagle River serves a soup supper at 6:15 p.m. followed by Lenten worship at 7 p.m. Much can be learned from partaking of these simple suppers, and the brief services connected with them. It’s a time for personal growth.

Instead of Lenten suppers and services, local Catholics, focus on the exercising what the Rev. Tom Lily calls the three Ts: “Time, talent, and treasure are common terms we use when talking about being good stewards of all God has entrusted to us. How do we generously give a proportionate amount of our time, talent and material resources back to glorify God through serving our neighbor?”

For example, Lent projects in St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, where Lily is the pastor, address all three T’s by supporting Catholic Social Services’ St. Francis Food Pantry. Each member is encouraged to participate in the Knights of Columbus’ “40 Cans 4 Lent” campaign, where 40 cans of food, one for each day of Lent, are donated. Members also donate funds for perishable dairy, fruits and vegetables. parish members also provide hands-on assistance at St. Francis house, as well as actively advocate support for the federal SNAP program through after-church letter-writing efforts.

Local pastor, the Rev. Rick Benjamin, raised in a Protestant/Evangelical/Pentecostal tradition that didn’t observe Lent calls himself a non-Lenter but connects with the custom of fasting and prayer as performed as Lenten tradition.

“Many important decisions in our church’s history, and in my own life, came out of times of dedicated prayer and fasting,” he said. Rick’s local relationships made him aware of the liturgical calendar and Lent. He became intrigued, saying, “Lent was similar to fasting, sort of an extended semifast, and a time of self-denial and preparation for Resurrection Sunday.” His experience with Lent has been positive. He points out, “I have benefited from Lent, even though my understanding and observance are admittedly incomplete. And to all the other ‘non-Lenters’ like me out there, I suggest you give Lent a try.”

My tradition was also a non-Lent observing one. Over the years, as I’ve matured in my faith, I’ve been exposed to this meaningful time of the church year dedicated to self-examination and rethinking one’s relationship with God. The music I hear in Lent-observing churches during this time becomes more thoughtful and intense. Like Benjamin, I encourage you to explore Lent, by attending any of the church activities I’ve noted above. I think you’ll be glad you went.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, churchvisits.com.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, emailcommentary(at)alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words toletters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

Ash Wednesday and Lent open the door to sustaining spiritual practices

My first Ash Wednesday service was in Chicago, some 45 years ago. In a new career position, I’d just been trained by someone who’d formerly followed my beliefs, but had discovered the joys of being Episcopalian. Jack, who enjoyed shocking me with belief practices foreign to my way of thinking, encouraged me to join him for Ash Wednesday services at a large Episcopal church. I was invited to receive the imposition of ashes, but, overwhelmed by the music, liturgy and unfamiliar practice, declined, unable to grasp it all.

Since then, I’ve received the ashes and over time, this spiritual practice became very important to me. The service marks the beginning of Lent, and focuses worshippers on Lent’s meaning and relationship to  Easter. Ash Wednesday falls 40 days, plus six Sundays (nonfast days) before Easter, a period based in part on Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness. Services draw on Genesis 3:19, God’s statement to Adam and Eve about the consequences of their sin.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” These words, based on that Scripture verse and traditionally spoken by clergy, as ashes are traced in the form of a cross on one’s forehead. Traditionally ashes were made from the previous year’s Palm Sunday fronds  (now they’re often purchased from religious supply stores). Lent is a time for prayer, meditation, reflection, repentance, redirection and sometimes fasting, which culminates in Easter. It can be a solemn time for refocusing one’s life.

Some churches offer Lenten services during the week; Sunday sermons focus on Lenten topics. If you don’t have a regular church home, a quick Internet search will turn up many local services. Churches offering Ash Wednesday and Lenten services mainly include Catholic, Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian and Lutheran. Some Baptist churches are adopting Lenten practices. A North Carolina Baptist Convention article, “Why the Baptist Church Should Celebrate Lent,” is useful, offering ideas for making Lent meaningful. Author Kenny Lamm writes, “In my opinion, unless we truly experience Lent, Easter is not nearly as great a celebration, but for many who have never been exposed to the ‘real’ church calendar, the idea may seem somewhat foreign.”

The Rev. Leo Walsh of St. Benedict’s Catholic Church offers a similar perspective on Lent. “There are many ways of looking at Lent. One is to view it as a spiritual journey into the wilderness,” he said. “The image works well here in Alaska; we are very familiar with going into the actual wilderness. We also know the importance of getting prepared. Few people would head into the Alaskan wilderness without a tent or a sleeping bag or bug dope or food, etc. How you prepare will be determined by the terrain where you are going and the length of the trip. It’s the same with Lent. The time to start preparing is now, not on the morning of Ash Wednesday. The two themes or goals of Lent are repentance/conversion and preparation for the celebration of baptism. We prepare to pursue these goals by prayer, fasting and almsgiving. I usually ask folks to plan to do something significant in each of these three areas. It’s also important to remember the essential connection between fasting and almsgiving. Whatever you are abstaining from, you are supposed to take the money you would have spent on that and give it to the poor. Fasting without almsgiving is called a ‘diet’ and is of limited spiritual or practical benefit.”

Consider adopting a practice during Lent to grow as a Christian. Lax in Scripture study? Consider renewing this life-giving habit. Never fed the hungry or visited prisoners? Many church-led opportunities here can help. Need a break from the constancy of your electronic life? One day per week respite, shutting everything down, might be perfect for you. Sound a bit like Sabbath? Maybe it is, i.e. a cessation of all work for an entire 24-hour day. Experts say it takes 21 days to form a new habit. Lent could establish some significant change in your life.

As in years past, a group of local Lutheran pastors will be in Town Square Park on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 10, to impose ashes upon request. One of those pastors, the Rev. Martin Eldred, says, “It gets us out of our comfort zones. Ash Wednesday in church is easier to set up; you wait for people to come. But taking ashes to the people is very visible; it’s good to shake up complacency and bring the Gospel to the people.”

“Taking ashes into Town Square Park and the downtown area reminds everyone we meet that we’re in the same human boat together,” says another Lutheran pastor, the Rev. Julia Seymour. “We are of the same dust and we are destined for the same end. Church buildings (and, sometimes, church leaders) can be barriers. Out in the open, we are there for conversation, for prayers, and for the reminder that we are all dust-made by God, loved by God, returning to God one way or another.”

These pastors aren’t proselytizing, but serving God’s children, reminiscent of the work of Sara Miles, director of ministry at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. In her book “City of God: Faith in the Streets,” Sara tells of taking ashes to the people on Ash Wednesday.

“God meets God’s people all over the place: by the side of a lake, in a city square, an upstairs room, a manger, a burning bush, a human body,” she told National Catholic Reporter. “The idea that liturgy should only happen inside church buildings is fairly recent: in fact, faith is practiced everywhere, in homes and public places as well as in temples. Taking ashes outdoors is just one example of contemporary worship beyond the building: you could also look at street churches, unhoused congregations, outdoor processions and vigils.”

I encourage you to explore Lent and its many meanings.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog,churchvisits.com.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words toletters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

Ash Wednesday, Lent are growing more popular – 2/14/15

Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of Lent, has traditionally been observed by mainline Protestant and Catholic churches. Other churches have now begun to observe this ancient practice. Many scholars and biblical historians trace Ash Wednesday and Lent to the 10th century. While it is not biblically designated, neither are Easter and Christmas, though most Christian traditions observe those holidays.

On Ash Wednesday — which falls on Feb. 18 this year — clergy apply ashes in the shape of the cross on the foreheads of the faithful, intoning “You are dust, and to dust you shall return,” from Genesis 3:19, or something similar. This reminds us of man’s ultimate fate without forgiveness. The 40-day period of Lent then begins, ending on Holy Saturday (April 4 this year). Lent is observed as a time for reflecting on our spiritual condition, foreshadowing Easter, which signifies forgiveness.

Many local churches offer Ash Wednesday services to observe the beginning of Lent. ADN’s Matters of Faith notices (below) mention some, while a simple Google search reveals many others. Use search terms “2015 Anchorage Ash Wednesday.”

Ash Wednesday innovations

Some local pastors have begun a wonderful practice of taking the ashes to the people. Several Lutheran pastors will be in Town Square Park to apply ashes to the foreheads of those who desire them. Other clergy take ashes to the people, notably the Rev. Sara Miles, an Episcopal priest in San Francisco, whose experiences are described in her book “City of God.” (You can see an interview here at tinyurl.com/mwdgx2y.)

Christ United Methodist Church in Shreveport, Louisiana, offers drive-thru ashes with “Ashes to Go,” moving an activity of the church to where the people are. This is a most basic Christian concept. Didn’t Christ minister to the people where they were? I encourage this concept for Anchorage.

I was intrigued by an account by Richard Beck, chair of Abilene Christian University’s Psychology Department, of an initial celebration of Ash Wednesday last year. ACU is a conservative school of the Church of Christ, a fundamentalist denomination. In response to my amazement, Beck said, “There are a lot of CoC congregations that are exploring Lent and the liturgical calendar. It’s an increasingly common thing in our denomination.”

Rabbit Creek Community Church, a Southern Baptist congregation, will celebrate Ash Wednesday for the first time with services at 6:30 p.m. They join a growing number of Baptist churches embracing this meaningful practice.

Muldoon Community Assembly, an Assemblies of God Church, will be imposing ashes on Ash Wednesday. Pastor Kent Redfearn said, “Very few AG churches give Ash Wednesday and Lent any consideration. I like the symbolism and practice of repentance, abstinence, fasting and prayer, so we dabble in both Ash Wednesday and Lent.”

Traditionally, Lent has been seen as a time of giving up certain things. Some pastors now encourage congregations to adopt something new during this period of reflection, such as volunteering, spending more time with family, or renewing prayer life.

Orthodox Lenten practices differ from Western Christianity

The three Orthodox traditions in Alaska follow Eastern Christianity practices. For example, the Rev. Vasili of Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox advises they do not observe Ash Wednesday but that Great Lent begins on Monday, Feb. 23 or Sunday evening with “Vespers of Forgiveness — in which all the members of the parish greet each other to ask, and to grant, forgiveness for all the ways that we have ‘missed the mark’ (Greek word for ‘sin’ means to miss the mark) in the previous year. We ask for forgiveness not only for the things that have directly affected others, but also for our sins that indirectly affect the entire cosmos.”

Orthodox Bishop David Mahaffey said, “Great Lent in the Orthodox tradition has six weeks and five Sundays, and Holy Week is in addition to this fast and is considered a separate fast of its own. Since there are 42 days in the six weeks, we drop off the first Sunday, which is called forgiveness Sunday and all the faithful gather to begin Lent in the afternoon by asking each other for mutual forgiveness. We greet each other with the phrase, ‘Forgive me, a sinner.’ and we reply, ‘God forgives, and so do I.’ Or something similar. (Actually the phrase ‘God forgives’ is sufficient). We also drop off the Saturday before Palm Sunday, which is observed as ‘Lazarus Saturday’ in the Orthodox Church, a precursor to Christ’s own resurrection, and the fasting is relaxed on this day.”

The Rev. Marc Dunaway of St. John Orthodox Cathedral in Eagle River says they follow the same basic practices described above.

Local Catholic practices support the faith

Archbishop Roger Schwietz offered his insights about Ash Wednesday. “The imposition of ashes on the forehead seems to speak powerfully to people today and is very popular. It reminds all of the temporary nature of our life on this earth and is perhaps more relevant in a world filled with insecurity. This is true even for young adults. We have a group of students at UAA who are organizing a service on campus, at which I will preside at 2 p.m. on Ash Wednesday.”

The Rev. Leo Walsh, of St. Benedict’s Catholic Church, says his parish has embraced the “New Evangelization” movement by focusing on “whole community catechesis” “to evangelize and form disciples for witness in the community.” He further notes Ash Wednesday and Lent provide opportunities “to educate and celebrate this holy season of 40 days so that we will be prepared for the celebration of the Resurrection.”

Theologian Walter Brueggemann, in his book “Remember You Are Dust,” writes, “Our life is a gift from God. We are dust, we are creatures. And God remembers that. We need to be humble, and yet at the same time remember that God remembers our creatureliness and gives us grace and love and forgiveness. We are dust, our lives are not our own, we serve a greater power.”

I strongly believe Ash Wednesday and Lent can help to focus our minds on a deeper understanding of the riches that culminate in Easter’s celebration.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, Church Visits. Contact him at churchvisits@gmail.com.

Pastors mark start of Lent by taking ashes to the people – 3/8/14

Lent commenced this week with Ash Wednesday and ends with Holy Saturday, the day before Palm Sunday, which marks the start of Holy Week. An early church tradition, Lent is credibly traceable back to the Apostle John through early church fathers Polycarp and Irenaeus, and recorded by early church historian Eusebius.

Originally celebrated as a severe fast leading up to Easter, Lent’s purpose was to prepare the mind and body for symbolically experiencing the last days of the life of Christ. Over time, Lent has become less sacrificial and more connected with what Christians give up. Lent can be powerful, reminding adherents of the power of sacrifice and their own mortality.

Today Lent is observed by most liturgical churches, including Catholics, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans and Congregationalists. Recently a groundswell of support for observing Lent has developed among a growing number of evangelicals. Many evangelicals previously avoided observing Lent because of its origin in the early church and ties to the papacy. They counter that the ideals of Lent are held high throughout the church year, yet Lent observance is growing year by year because of its hold on the imagination.

Ash Wednesday, an ancient church practice of placing ashes on the forehead in the sign of the cross, requires people to seek out a church and clergy who perform this rite. Lately, perceptive churchmen are starting to take ashes to the people. In San Francisco, Sara Miles, director of Ministry at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church, has been doing this for three years in the Mission District. A recent Christian Century article by Miles, “Witness to the Dark: Ashes in the Streets,” was an excerpt from her latest book, “City of God: Faith in the Streets,” which describes how this practice of taking ashes to the streets began.

This effort symbolizes taking the gospel to the people, as opposed to expecting people to come to church to receive the gospel. The hallmarks of the gospel, visiting the sick and those in prison, caring for widows, and taking the “Good News” to the world, as commanded by Jesus, were never intended to be a church-bound imperative.

Local Lutheran pastors Martin Eldred (Joy Lutheran), Dan Bollerud (Christ Our Savior Lutheran) and Julia Seymour (Lutheran Church of Hope) followed Sara Miles’ example on Ash Wednesday by distributing ashes at Town Square and the Downtown Transit Center. Although takers were few, it clearly caught the public’s attention. Those accepting ashes were exceeding grateful. Interestingly, the pastors saw no people with ash on their foreheads during their visit.

Pastor Julia, who first suggested their outing, offered several observations.

“Ash Wednesday is a church institution, not something instructed by God or done by Jesus. It is a day the Church decided that people should reflect on their mortality and humanity before entering a season of fasting and penitence. When I think about those three things, I think:

“1. Church isn’t limited to a building or to the people who show up in a building.

“2. Plenty of people are very aware of their mortality.

 “3. Fasting and feasting are not always things we choose. Sometimes they are put upon us by the choices of others.

“We came as people from on high with answers. We also came as fellow human beings, seeking life and fearing death. We brought ashes as a reminder of our connection to one another, our connection to dust, and our connection (acknowledged or unacknowledged) with God. The ashes remind us of the brokenness in those relationships — with each other, creation and God. Only God knows what will result from our presence. We trust the Holy Spirit to make and keep us ready for it.”

 Pastor Dan added: “Ashes distribution in public is a way to take the gospel to the world and remind people they are loved where they are at, not for any great spiritual accomplishment on their own. The 40 days of Lent should be used as an opportunity to give up ingratitude, replacing it with gratitude. It takes 40 days to establish a new habit. Aim to recognize one thing you’re grateful for each day. Lent speaks to God’s presence in the dark times of life. Christianity is getting more real.”

 I believe Anchorage is better for this selfless outreach. These three have started a new Lenten tradition here. Thank you, pastors, for leading the way.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, Church Visits, at adn.com/churchvisits. Emailchurchvisits@gmail.com.

Original ADN Article
http://www.adn.com/article/20140307/chris-thompson-pastors-mark-start-lent-taking-ashes-people

Anchorage Observes Ash Wednesday 2013

Today marks the beginning of Lent worldwide. In many churches the Lenten season starts with the observance of Ash Wednesday. Services are held throughout the day to initiate the start of Lent.

After homilies, calculated to urge Christians to a level of piety not normally seen during the remainder of the year, ashes are placed on the foreheads of worshipers. The ashes, applied in the shape of the cross, are made from palm fronds from the previous year’s Palm Sunday services.

Lent marks the 40 weekdays until Good Friday. Sundays are not counted in the 40 day cycle. Not all churches observe Lent but even those churches who do not follow Lent, tend to observe Good Friday and Easter. Typically, Catholic, Orthodox, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, and Episcopal churches make it a practice to observe Lent. Various reasons for not following Lent are given by non-observing religions such as pagan origins, early church infidelities, etc.

Many individuals seriously “give up” things or practices they adhere to during Lent. Some give up things they dearly love in their diet such as meat. Others might give up chocolate, adult beverages, or other things to show they are focusing upon the true spirit of the paschal season. It is a time of soul searching and serious penitence for many, including much fasting and prayer.

The end of this penitential, watchful season is of course Holy Week with it’s culmination in observing the awful events of the crucifixion on Good Friday, Christ’s tomb sojourn and his glorious resurrection on Sunday, the first day of the week. This annual observance will continue until the Lord returns to claim his own.

If you’ve never experienced an Ash Wednesday service, I urge you to go to one today. You can find a number of them listed through a Google search using the search terms “Anchorage Alaska Ash Wednesday Services 2013”. Your Google search will be the same whether or not you use capital letters. On the first three Google search pages, I found the following Anchorage churches offering Ash Wednesday services. If they’ve announced them through the Anchorage Daily News, or on their church website that is. If churches only mention them in the church bulletin, it’s unlikely they will appear during your search.

Central Lutheran Church
St Patrick’s Parish
First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
St John UMC
Faith Lutheran Church
All Saints Episcopal Church
St Andrew Catholic Church
St Mary’s Episcopal Church
First Presbyterian Church
First Congregational Church

Happy Ash Wednesday!

Edward Fudge: The Ashes Tell the Truth

Earlier this week, noted blogger Edward Fudge* posted a wonderful write-up regarding Ash Wednesday. A number of evangelical Christian groups totally ignore Ash Wednesday, the starting of Lent, and the significance of the season of Lent, but jump right in during Holy Week. With Edward Fudge’s permission, I’m extremely pleased to share his blog post in it’s entirety.

The Ashes Tell the Truth: Edward Fudge**

This past Wednesday, on the traditional Christian calendar, was Ash Wednesday. It is the first day of Lent, a 40-day period (not counting Sundays) of repentance and prayer that leads to the victorious climax on Easter Sunday. True, the New Testament does not mention Ash Wednesday, Lent or even Easter by name (except for a mistranslation in the KJV). Yet one would be hard pressed to object to the traditional themes and details those special days incorporate — words and actions that are solidly biblical and spiritually strengthening as well, when celebrated with faith resting on Jesus Christ and undergirded by the atonement he has accomplished once for all.

The Episcopal liturgy for Ash Wednesday is typical of others, in which those assembled pray: “Almighty God, You have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.” The minister (or other officiant) then makes with ashes a small cross on each person’s forehead while saying: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

The deed and the declarations harmonize, with each other and also with basic biblical truths. Truths that many Christians, bewitched by the death-denying mentality of our thoroughly- secular culture, avoid and even obscure. According to the Bible, death is not our friend but our enemy — an enemy which Jesus came dying to destroy. Resurrection, not death, is the believer’s doorway into immortality. But Easter is about resurrection: the ashes last week are about our mortality that makes resurrection so exceedingly vital, in both senses of the word. Thanks be to God!

* Edward William Fudge (born July 13, 1944) is an American Christian theologian and lawyer, best known for his book “The Fire that Consumes”, in which he argues against traditionalist Christian interpretations of Hell. He has been called “one of the foremost scholars on hell” by The Christian Post. He is the subject of the 2012 independent film “Hell and Mr. Fudge”.
** Original blog posted at http://edwardfudge.com/gracemails/ash_wednesday.html

Intentions – Keeping the Season of Lent

During my St. Mark’s visit on Ash Wednesday, I was attracted to an idea they were promoting to individuals or families in their congregation. Several areas of the nave contained a “Tree of Intentions”, a bare branched tree where one could fill out a small tag naming an intention for Lent, and then tying it to the tree.

These are some of the suggested intentions St. Mark’s offered on a leaflet.

* Volunteer at a local food bank or meal program part of one day per week.

* Research and purchase more “in season” local produce.

* Each week in Lent write and mail one letter to a friend.

* Practice sitting in silence or meditation for 10-15 minutes each day.

* Each week in Lent write and mail one letter to a friend.

* Pray one part (Morning, Noon, or Evening) of the Daily office http://www.missionstclare.com/english

* Pray for all who lack clean water and must spend several hours each day carrying unclean water home to drink.

Lent is a beautiful time for reflection and renewal leading into Easter.

The full list from St Marks is attached below.

My Ash Wednesday…2013

I’m in Seattle at a Rotary conference and observed Ash Wednesday at St. Mark’s Cathedral during a noon service in it’s nave. It was a deeply moving experience; a much needed and blessed counterpoint to a self-absorbed world as I moved into Lent.

St. Mark’s, an Episcopal church, is sited on the north end of Capital Hill in a quiet neighborhood. It was spawned in 1865, and has been in various locations here, in one form or another since. It’s interesting history can be seen by clicking HERE.

The church has beautiful acoustics and is the scene of many wonderful Seattle music events, and weekly compline and evensongs which I’ve only heard by radio or in recording.

From beginning to end, the service was most moving. It was performed by clergy and laity together. The Very Reverend Steve Thomason was the Presider, and the Reverend Irene Tanabe was the Preacher. The service was a skillfully interwoven series of readings from the Old Testament, the Psalms, and the New Testament. Reverand Tanabe gave a warm and wonderful homily, touching several times on some familiar Seinfeld episodes. I could have listened to this gentle woman pastor for hours. Her recorded homily is available for your listening pleasure HERE.

The music for the service was simple, and beautiful. It was supplied by cantor and flutist Brian Fairbanks. He chanted the text of Psalm 51 during The Imposition of Ashes, and then, during the offertory, he beautifully rendered, on the flute, the Sarabande from Sonata in A minor by J.S. Bach. What a wonderful experience this was!

During the Imposition of Ashes, Reverend Tanabe served my section. I noticed her warm, affectionate smile on each person receiving their ashes in the sign of the cross on their foreheads. I felt the same as she served me. Too many preachers, I fear, are stern and foreboding instead of being warm and caring. This simple act went straight to my heart.

The congregants on this cool, cloudy Seattle day were primarily older persons, retired, with some depending heavily on canes or walkers to assist them. There were some children in attendance. I especially noted a father and mother with a toddler in a special place on the main floor with a rocking chair and large rug for the child to crawl upon. There were some business and professional people in evidence as well. What a wonderful mixture for this service! The Eucharist was shared before the service ended.

Normally I do not like the Passing of the Peace but this day, I was close to tears as young and old greeted me warmly with great eye contact and love in their voices. My entire experience here was most stirring and I was deeply moved. If I lived in this churches neighborhood, I’d probably check in here regularly.

It’s Ash Wednesday 2012 in Anchorage

Ash Wednesday, steeped in church tradition, opens Lent, a period of soul searching, denial, and anxious observance leading up to Easter.

I recall my first Ash Wednesday service, years ago, at an Episcopal Service in Chicago I attended with a friend. Both of us were not from that tradition but I found the service strange and wonderful at the same time. Many Anchorage churches offer Ash Wednesday services tonight. I plan on attending one or two churches myself.[img_assist|nid=159857|title=Ash Wednesday|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=361]

I recently discovered some wonderful Ash Wednesday reflections in a sermon delivered by Rev. Margaret W. Jones, Episcopal Pastor of Calvary Episcopal Church in Memphis, TN with the title “Ash Wednesday – A Wake-up Call” “. Her words give new meaning and emphasis to the importance of this day.

“Ash Wednesday is a wake-up call. Ash Wednesday hits us squarely between the eyes, forcing us to face mortality and sinfulness. We hear Scripture readings that are urgent and vivid. We have black ashes rubbed into our foreheads. We recite a Litany of Penitence that takes our breath away, or should. It is a tough day, but take heart! This is one religious day that won’t fall into the clutches of retailers. There aren’t any Hallmark cards celebrating sin and death; no shop windows are decked out with sackcloth and ashes.

On Ash Wednesday we come to church to kneel, to pray, and to ask God’s forgiveness, surrounded by other sinners. Human sin is universal; we all do it, not only Christians. But our church tradition sets aside Ash Wednesday as a particular day to address sin and death. We do this mindful that “God hates nothing God has made and forgives the sins of all who are penitent.” We are ALL sinners, no better and no worse than our brothers and sisters. This is not a day to compete (‘my sins are worse than yours are’), but to confess.”

Click here for the full text of her sermon.

If Ash Wednesday is not your tradition, consider adopting it for one day. Coming after Carnival, and Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday, it offers God-given relief from excess represented by the other.

I’m a huge fan of respected American Theologian Walter Brueggemann’s published prayers. This Lenten prayer is contained in his wonderful book of prayers, “Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth”.

Loss is indeed our gain

The pushing and the shoving of the world is endless.
We are pushed and shoved.
And we do our fair of pushing and shoving
in our great anxiety.
And in the middle of that
you have set down your beloved suffering son
who was like a sheep led to slaughter
who opened not his mouth.
We seem not able,
so we ask you to create spaces in our life
where we may ponder his suffering
and your summons for us to suffer with him,
suspecting that suffering is the only way to come to newness
So we pray for your church in these Lenten days,
when we are driven to denial —
not to notice the suffering,
not to engage it,
not to acknowledge it.
So be that way of truth among us
that we should not deceive ourselves.
That we shall see that loss is indeed our gain.
We give you thanks for that mystery from which we live.
Amen
Taken from Walter Brueggemann’s Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth
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