Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday

I've mentioned before that I'm extremely interested and focused on experiencing Lent in a meaningful way this year.

Because of this, I decided to attend an Ash Wednesday service for the first time in my life. These are my reflections about this incredibly moving, beautiful experience.

My faith tradition has no special service for or observance of Lent, so everything I saw and did today was fresh and new to me. I've taken communion before, but not like I did today. I've sung the hymn "Just As I Am" before, usually at the end of revival meetings as the preacher hopes people will come forward for prayer or baptism, but not like today while accompanied by an organ. There were extensive readings from Psalm 51 and 103...which incidentally are the only 2 Psalms I have memorized, but these translations were different. So there were many familiar things, but they were presented in completely new and different ways. It was nice because it didn't allow for any auto-pilot time which is something I think we all fall into on occasion in familiar church settings.

I loved the formality of the event. It spoke to me about the reverence due God. I loved the readings from the Bible that were presented in large chunks with no commentary or explanation. The passages spoke for themselves, and called my heart to attention. My favorite part was the receiving of the ashes. I have to admit I was nervous to walk to the front. Remember, I had no idea about the rules, or protocol. I was trying to imitate those around me, but I know I did not do things exactly right. There were two people distributing the ashes, one male and one female. As they marked each person they repeated the phrase "Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return." That phrase was echoing continuously, in those two distinct voices. I felt as if the phrase itself was swirling around me, boring into my heart and mind. It was the clearest reminder of my humanity, and my place before God that I have had in a long time.

The other most powerful moment was participating in Communion. Again, I walked to the front. One person placed a wafer in my hand as they spoke the phrase "This is the body of Christ." Another person held forth a silver cup of wine. As I tipped it to drink a sip he said, "This is the blood of Christ given for the forgiveness of your sins." Again, these phrases echoed over and over, throughout the room, filling my heart and mind.

We sang a hymn near the end of the service that I had never heard before. The words touched me because they resonate with my desires for this season of Lent. The title is Lord, who throughout these forty days.

Lord, who throughout these forty days For us didst fast and pray, Teach us with Thee to mourn our sins And close by Thee to stay.

As Thou with Satan didst contend, And didst the victory win, O give us strength in Thee to fight, In Thee to conquer sin.

As Thou didst hunger bear, and thirst, So teach us, gracious Lord, To die to self, and chiefly live By Thy most holy Word.

And through these days of penitence, And through Thy passiontide, Yea, evermore in life and death, Jesus, with us abide.

Abide with us, that so, this life Of suffering over past, An Easter of unending joy We may attain at last.

It was formal, but not stifling. It was fresh, but not overwhelming. It was dictated by special participational readings, but (at least for me) it was not repetitive or by rote. It was an honor to be a part of this service. It brought tears to my eyes. It strengthened my love for God and my knowledge of his love for me. I plan to attend every year. In fact, I am going to look forward to this each year in joyful anticipation.


Elaine said...

One thing I miss about my church in Indiana is the Ash Wednesday service. Glad you found one that was meaningful - it is an important time.

belinda said...

i'd like to recommend your attending Purim services at your local Temple also. our Temple is actually performing a "lighthearted musical presentation of the story of Esther" adapted to the music of Grease.

Purim, Rosh Hashannah, & Yom Kippur are very special events at the Temple. Yom Kippur is the "day of atonement."