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.”
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.
Taken from Walter Brueggemann’s Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth
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