Lent is supposed to be a season of self-denial and repentance, so why do I look forward to Ash Wednesday so much? Why is the Ash Wednesday liturgy my favorite service in the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer?
I think I enjoy observing Lent because the prayers, readings, and sacrament of ashes remind us that no matter how bleak our condition may seem, God’s love triumphs over all.
The opening prayer from the Ash Wednesday service in the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer grounds the service in God’s love and forgiveness:
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have created and forgive the sins of all who are penitent.
The readings usually include 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.
To me, this Psalm is a reminder that God does not define us by our worst moments. While we tend to dwell on our worst traits, God loves our whole selves.
After the Bible readings, the service continues with an invitation to observe a holy Lent, which begins:
Dear People of God . . .
I just love that phrase–maybe because it connotes a sense of belonging to God. God’s love draws us together, despite the differences we think pull us apart.
With the imposition of ashes the priest reminds us:
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
While this may strike some as a macabre part of the service, I see it as a needed reminder of my place in God’s creation. As much as I don’t like to think about it, life is short. I need to treasure the time I have with loved ones and appreciate the blessings each day brings.
So, yes, Lent is a solemn season that can include self-examination, repentance, fasting, and self-denial, but it also is a time of preparation for Easter, when we celebrate Jesus’ ultimate triumph over death.
This week’s Wednesday Word is triumphant. At first it seemed like a hard word for Ash Wednesday, but then I realized that it was a perfect one!
What do you feel triumphant about?