Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday, the Beginning of Lent

For Christians, today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the forty day (not counting Sundays) season of Lent. Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon word lencten, which means “spring.” The season is a preparation for celebrating the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday. Historically, Lent began as a period of fasting and preparation for baptism by converts and then became a time for penance by all Christians.

Most churches that observe the season of lent will mark their worship space with somber colors such as purple or ash gray and rough-textured cloth as most appropriate symbols.

Ash Wednesday provides us with the opportunity to confront our own mortality and to confess our sin before God within the community of faith. The form and content of the Ash Wednesday Service focuses on the themes of sin and death, but it does so within the context of God’s redeeming love in Jesus Christ.

The use of ashes as a sign of mortality and repentance has a long history in Jewish and Christian worship, and the Imposition of Ashes can be a powerful and tangible way of participating in the call to repentance and reconciliation.

May we all be drawn closer to God and made more like Christ by God's grace during this Lenten journey to the cross and resurrection.


circuitrider said...

We neglect the Imposition of Ashes practice in most of our protestant denominations. The Pastor at St. John's UCC in Boonville, where I help with visitation,started doing this last year combined with a communion service. It was much appreciated by the congregation. I also thought it gave new meaning and focus to the Lenten season...keith

Todd Stepp said...


I would suggest that the imposition of ashes is neglected in (perhaps) most "evangelical" denominations, but I would doubt most "protestant" denominations.

All of the Anglican/Episcopalians and Lutherans that I know do it. I know many Presbyterians and Methodists of various stripes do it. I know of Disciples & UCC and others. (Though I don't know of many Baptists that do, I'm sure there are some American Baptists who do).

The idea that some have that somehow this is Roman Catholic is simply not true. Those of us in denominations that tend to be more . . . isolationist are often unaware of what the vast majority of Christians do out there.

I would suggest that what the St. John's pastor started is nothing new at all (except, perhaps, for that congregation), but has been the way of doing Ash Wednesday through the ages.

I'm glad you found new meaning and focus for Lent through your experience of Ash Wednesday.

Your Brother in Christ,

circuitrider said...

I was probably thinking in evangelical terms when I said protestant. Its too bad that so many evangelicals are somehow afraid of introducing a practice that they think to be Catholic into their services...keith

Eric + said...

We had a wonderful service last night. I typically don't include the Eucharist at that particular service. I want the imposition of ashes to resonate and be the predominant image. We do move the service toward the thanksgiving at the end, but the tangible experience of ashes lingered. I used mainly the UMBoW, 1992, and it went very well.

My wife was at work yesterday and one of her colleagues told her class that Ash Wednesday is the day that Catholics go to church to get ashes put on their heads. My wife told her "I am not Catholic, but I will be going to church and having ashes put on my head." Her colleague was a little confused and then replied, "Well I won't." It was not in any angry or combative way, just highlighting the symbolic/sacramental bankruptcy of much of evangelicalism.

Todd Stepp said...

The first Ash Wednesday I was at my present charge, I simply explained about Ash Wednesday.

I too had those in my congregation who commented that ONLY (Roman) Catholics do that. However, I pointed out to them all of the (Protestant) church signs that were advertising Ash Wednesday Services.

The next year, the adult who had told one of our children(!) that only (Roman) Catholics observed Ash Wednesday was among those who came forward for the imposition of ashes.

Not everyone in my congregation comes forward. I think they still can't get past the "Catholic" idea despite all of my teaching. However, most who attend the service do receive that ashes.

Before I moved to my present church, I always included the Eucharist. Here I have not. Not for the reasons you mention, but because of the resistance to having Communion too often. (And unlike the Borg, in this case I can't simply say, "Resistance is futile.")

Still, I think we had a good service, last night.


Pastor Steven said...

We have not practiced the imposition of ashes even though I think it can be a powerful symbol of repentance and our mortality. We mark the first day of Lent with with the invitation to an observance of a Holy Lent. Dear People of God: The first Christians. . .the Collect for Ash Wednesday and all three lessons and the psalm of the day. We also use a portion of psalm 51 in place of the creed. We do celebrate the Lord's Supper on the first day of Lent, it is a shame that so many Nazarenes are afraid of celebrating the Eucharist too much. This year our next celebration of the Lord's Supper will be this Sunday as we celebration it the first Sunday of every month.

I guess I need to think about doing the imposition of ashes next year. It's good to hear about what other Pastors and Churches are doing around the country. I have kinda felt like the odd man out in CotN circles, you guys and others have given me hope. Have a blessed Lent.