Ash Wednesday

I love the liturgy of the Ash Wednesday service in the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer. While you might think an Ash Wednesday service would be a depressing focus on sin, I find it to be very powerful and even uplifting.

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The opening prayer gets me right away:

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have created and forgive the sins of all who are penitent.

I think being reminded of God’s forgiveness before we confess our sins reinforces God’s unconditional love for us.

On of the readings usually is Psalm 103, which includes these verses:

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy,
slow to anger and full of great kindness.

He will not always accuse us,
nor will he keep his anger forever.

He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.

As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our sins from us.

This Psalm brings to mind a “children’s sermon”that I heard years ago. The pastor talked about how children always want to be treated fairly, and how siblings especially don’t want their brother(s) or sister(s) getting more than they deserve. But he explained that we are lucky that God doesn’t treat us fairly–He gives us more than our “fair share” and doesn’t hold every wrong against us.  To me, this Psalm is a reminder that God sees us apart from our shortcomings and wrong-doings.

After the Bible readings, the service continues with an invitation to observe a holy Lent, which begins:

Dear People of God . . .

Seriously, I just love that phrase, maybe because it connotes a sense of belonging to God.

Of course, it is a solemn service. With the imposition of ashes the priest reminds us:

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

and the Litany of Penitence has nearly two full pages of ways in which we have fallen short of God’s will for us, from failing to love our neighbors as ourselves, to being self-indulgent and envious, to being negligent in prayer and worship. I am guilty in all these ways, but still I leave the service reassured of God’s love.

I still haven’t decide how I am going to observe a holy Lent–what practices of “self-examination and repentance,” “prayer, fasting and self-denial,” and “reading and meditating on God’s holy word” I will focus on for the next 40 days, but at least I have started Lent with a sincere and contrite heart.

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Are you giving up anything or committing to do anything for Lent?

If you got ashes today, has anyone told you that you have a smudge on your forehead?

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3 Responses to Ash Wednesday

  1. SuperBabe says:

    No smudge comment today, but I did get something along those lines some years ago when I was still a PhD student working with bottom ashes… one of the professors came in my lab, reached for my forehead, removed the ashes and then told me "you had something on your forehead" 🙂

    I'm giving up bread (bread and dough-based things like pizza, cake, etc… unsure about pita and tortillas at this point… I need some carbs!) And I'm proud of myself, I actually made it to church this year… a first since 2005!

  2. Tink says:

    Receiving of the ashes was very meaningful this year as a friend had unexpectedly died just days before.

    I had decided ahead of time to stop having diet coke. I only have it at certain times and it seems those add up. Most often I want it when I am stressed so it is good to release my stress to God rather than diet coke. I also gave up potato chips. Precisely potato chips because again those are something I will reach for when stressed. What I am adding is meditation and additional devotional reading to better yield the stress.

    The sermon today was very good and words I needed to hear.

    I got a comment in a business meeting that I had smudged my forehead. I know I looked dumbfounded for a moment and then realized they thought it was ink and didn't have a clue about the ashes. I recovered and simply stated they were ashes in observance of Lent a Christian Holy Season. Then they were embarrassed for having pointed me out but I stated I would rather know than not because sometime it could just be ink. Everyone relaxed with a chuckle and the meeting moved on.

    Now to some growth during this season.

    Tink

  3. Coco says:

    (((Tink))) Sorry to hear about your friend.

    I think you handled the "smudge" comment perfectly.

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