Today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of Lent, which is a 40-day period of repentance and reflection that many Christians observe before Easter.
My faith practice focuses on God’s love and grace more than our sin and need for redemption, but the Ash Wednesday liturgy may be my favorite service in the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer.
The opening prayer reminds me of God’s unconditional love:
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have created and forgive the sins of all who are penitent.
And Psalm 103 is full of promises God’s mercy:
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 is a reminder that while we tend to define ourselves by our worst traits, God loves our whole selves.
After the Bible readings, the service continues with an invitation to observe a holy Lent:
Dear People of God . . .
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the
observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance;
by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and
meditating on God’s holy Word. And, to make a right beginning
of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now
kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
This year my observation of Lent will include starting my day with the Daily Prayer podcasts based on the New Zealand Book of Common Prayer and trying to catch myself–and stop myself–when I find myself judging others. Ironically (but not surprisingly) this Lenten practice was inspired by Carla’s post. Trying to live up to the principle “Judge not, lest you be judged” seems like a fitting goal during a season when I will be asking God to have mercy on me even when I deserve harsher judgment.
Do you observe Ash Wednesday?