I know I’m a little late since it’s Friday already but I wanted to write about going to an Ash Wednesday service for the first time in my life. I didn’t grow up in a church that practices Lent so I know almost nothing about it. Every year, I hear about what other people are giving up for Lent but that’s about it.
So I didn’t even really know why Ash Wednesday is called Ash Wednesday.
Thankfully, there is a great little Episcopal church (St. Hilda St. Patrick) just down the road from where we live. I’ve been there once before so I decided to attend their Ash Wednesday service. Perhaps because I rarely attended liturgical services as a child, I love them. Rather than feeling dead and repetitive (as some friends who grew up in liturgical traditions sometimes complain), I love all the words.
- I love that you listen to a variety of voices read long Scripture passages from multiple books of the Bible.
- I love that you read out loud as a congregation and speak prayers and psalms that the church has spoken for generations.
- I love the corporate confession.
- I love the gathering around the altar for communion.
At this service, I was struck with appreciation to hear an elementary school girl read a passage from Joel. I have so little interaction with kids this age anymore. Something about the fact that she tripped over “sanctify” and “solemn” and “vestibule” – pausing, looking for a little help – made me wonder, How often do we expect everything to be performed at a level of perfection that does nothing to reconnect us with our own humanity? I don’t often say things are “sweet” but it was sweet to hear a young voice reading out of God’s word. And it was better because it wasn’t perfect.
The Gospel reading came from Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21. These passages discuss practicing your faith in secret rather than displaying your deeds for all to see “as the hypocrites do.” The Message paraphrases it as “role-play before God.” A timely message for Lent, as the priest said in her sermon, because often even in giving things up we make our faith about us rather than Him. Some other great points she made:
- Fasting isn’t about giving something up but about opening up more space for God.
- Lent is a time of being intentional about reclaiming our dependence on God – to remember who we belong to and why.
The Litany of Penitence is my favourite part as I’ve written about before here. The catalog of sins feels so accurate to my life that I always feel amazed that the whole congregation is saying it together. Like physically gathering at the altar to receive the bread and the wine, these aspects of liturgical services are such powerful reminders that we are a community, the body of Christ, worshiping corporately.
Oh, and I learned that Ash Wednesday is about reminding ourselves of our own mortality. The officiants draw a cross on your forehead with ash and say “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” It’s a sign of mourning and repentance. You acknowledge your dependence on Christ.
Lent is something I’ve never considered practicing before. I think about how much I love Advent and the build-up to Christmas, and it seems that Lent would be a similar valuable tool in preparing our hearts for Good Friday & Easter Sunday – the culmination of the story. Maybe it’s less “fun” than Advent but I often feel like Easter catches me by surprise, a little blip on the radar, that passes by without much thought. I don’t think it should be like that. So as I learn more about Lent, I hope to begin incorporating it into my life a little more.
What are your thoughts on Lent? Do you observe it or not?