I, along with many other seekers, tend to visit churches on special church days in this manner: churches that have previously shown me true Christian hospitality, Bible-based messages, and music enhancing the service, rather than merely entertaining, draw me back over and over again.
Nothing is more depressing to any guest than to visit a church on a special day, only to receive little or no welcome, be unhospitably treated, forced to endure a long musical entertainment, and listen to an ill-prepared message without strong Biblical ties.
All of the reasons given in my first paragraph are why I chose Amazing Grace Lutheran’s Ash Wednesday service this week. I was truly blessed by this hour-long service led by Pastor Martin Dasler. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a strong Christian traditional period of fasting, abstinence, and repentance. Ash Wednesday has strong ties to two Old Testament signs: humility and mortality, and sorrow and repentance for sin. It was strongly ingrained in church practice by the 5th Century.
The service was simple starting with the Gathering Song, Lord Jesus Think on Me, the Invocation, and the Prayer of the Day. The Psalm was Psalm 51:1-17, a reminder of our sinful condition, and a petition for healing, and relief from sin. Then came the Confession of Sin, followed by the First Reading taken from Genesis 3:6-13.
A special presentation replaced the traditional homily. A small set, The Ethiopian Tatoo Shop, was used as a backdrop for the telling of a story ,The Mirror of God, which linked back to the Genesis creation story. This unusually excellent spiritual presentation was unexpected in my visit to Amazing Grace.
The Second Reading, taken from Joel 2:1-2, 12-16, was a strong reminder of the coming of the Day of the Lord. This was followed by the Imposition of Ashes when those desiring them had them inscribed on their foreheads in the sign of the cross. The ashes are a touching reminder of our mortality, and our ultimately becoming dust again, a return to man’s original state.
We sang another hymn Change My Heart, O God. Prayers, including the Lord’s Prayer, were then said with a concluding benediction and dismissal via the Sending Song Abide With Me.
Each Wednesday until Easter, a similar service will be held at Amazing Grace. Beginning with a Soup Supper at 6 p.m., and followed by a Worship Service at 7 p.m., a different story will be offered at the Ethiopian Tattoo Parlor. The stories to come are:
2/29 – Gideon
3/07 – Woman of Shuman
3/14 – Curse of Fig Tree
3/21 – Boy Who Lost His Magic
3/28 – Mary of Bethany
Pastor Marty and his church comprise a warm and active lot. I was warmly greeted by a number of people on Wednesday night, despite the somber character of Ash Wednesday. If you’re looking for a warm and active church family, you’re likely to find it here.
At the risk of making this post overly long, my favorite Old Testament theologian, Walter Brueggemann, has inscribed a poem, Marked by Ashes, which helps me internalize the challenges inherent in the Ash Wednesday’s of our lives.
Marked by Ashes
Ruler of the Night, Guarantor of the day . . .
This day — a gift from you.
This day — like none other you have ever given, or we have ever received.
This Wednesday dazzles us with gift and newness and possibility.
This Wednesday burdens us with the tasks of the day, for we are already halfway home
halfway back to committees and memos,
halfway back to calls and appointments,
halfway on to next Sunday,
halfway back, half frazzled, half expectant,
half turned toward you, half rather not.
This Wednesday is a long way from Ash Wednesday,
but all our Wednesdays are marked by ashes —
we begin this day with that taste of ash in our mouth:
of failed hope and broken promises,
of forgotten children and frightened women,
we ourselves are ashes to ashes, dust to dust;
we can taste our mortality as we roll the ash around on our tongues.
We are able to ponder our ashness with
some confidence, only because our every Wednesday of ashes
anticipates your Easter victory over that dry, flaky taste of death.
On this Wednesday, we submit our ashen way to you —
you Easter parade of newness.
Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,
Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;
Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.
Come here and Easter our Wednesday with
mercy and justice and peace and generosity.
We pray as we wait for the Risen One who comes soon.
Taken from Walter Brueggemann’s Prayers for a Privileged People (Nashville: Abingdon, 2008).[img_assist|nid=159820|title=Prayers for a Privileged People|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=307|height=490]