Ash Wednesday – Not really cancelled, just different

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With regret, Messiah Lutheran Church and School‘s building will close at 6:00 pm tonight. There will be no Ash Wednesday service.

Reviewing several television and government weather forecasts as well as other public safety resources, it seems our region is expecting an inch or less of snow accumulation. Unfortunately, a number of these same resources suggest that it could come fast and with heavy “bursts” causing a quarter mile or less visibility in some areas. Wind gusts could reach 30 mph with temperatures dramatically falling into the single digits this evening. Wind chill is expected to be in the below zero range (-5). Melting prior to nightfall is expected to refreeze causing hazardous road conditions into tomorrow.

The snow is supposed to arrive in our region right as we would have gathered for worship (5:00 pm – 8:00 pm). As our membership comes from such a wide expanse of territory in our region, we are cancelling tonight’s service for safety reasons. Yet for those interested, we will offer the imposition of Ashes on the First Sunday of Lent, February 22 at both services.

In addition, it is important to understand that the imposition of ashes need not be done only in a church or by a pastor or priest. As our upcoming Wednesday night Lenten program, “The Priesthood of All Believers,” will help remind us, we are all called to ministry and every home is a little church. For those interested, there is a home liturgy available through the article, “Ashes on Ice: Celebrating Ash Wednesday at Home.”

The imposition of ashes on the forehead as a sign of repentance recalls the Jewish practice of wearing sackcloth (a coarse, black cloth made from goat’s hair), fasting, and sitting in ashes as a sign of mourning or repentance. Christians began to practice this ritual by the 10th Century AD. It became an official rite of the church by the 13th century. Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans/Episcopalians, Methodists, and other liturgical Protestants continue this tradition. The practice serves as a symbol of our mortality as well as the regret we share over our individual and collective sin. Imposing ashes in the sign of the cross, it serves to witness to others and remind ourselves that we are sinner-saints, people who struggle with sin but who also rely on God’s grace. It echoes the marking of a cross on our foreheads with anointing oil during our baptism.

In all the above traditions, a pastor, deacon or lay person can impose the ashes. Although ashes can be distributed “on the go” at any location, we prefer to gather corporately during public worship as a reminder of our interconnectedness in a fallen world.  We suffer from and contribute to individual and systemic sin. We live in hope with all the heavenly host and communion of saints.

Thus in the spirit of the prophet Joel’s admonition, we seek to live in a manner that reflects the short time we have to live out our baptismal call and share Christ’s love. We gather together in a spirit of repentance but also in hopeful expectation of Christ’s imminent return: Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming. (Joel 2:1)

Life is too short, and Judgment Day will surely come for all. Yet as part of the communion of saints, trusting in Jesus, we are never alone. Even on that terrible day, forgiveness is ours. With confidence, we may await the day of Christ’s return.

While we wait, let us cooperate with the grace offered us to reform our lives. Let us struggle to love God and others all the more.

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.

© 2015 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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