“Remember you are dust…”
Preparing for our Online service and Observance of Ash Wednesday
February 17, 2021 7:00 p.m.
This year, our Ash Wednesday service will be a bit more intimate than in the past. Strange to use that word in the context of our current “Zoom” worship services, isn’t it?! Intimate: something that is “innermost and cherished.” Perhaps a better word is “familial.” Ash Wednesday is always an intimate time and our worship together is always an intimate experience. But this year we will gather in our homes, inviting God into that time and space as we gather in couples, singles, families, and all of us one—a familial embrace. As odd as this may seem at first, there is nothing “virtual” about it–I believe our prayers will enfold us into a spiritual comfort in which we will truly encounter the holiness of God.
As we ready ourselves for Lent and how to observe it under changed circumstances, I want to remind you that the Spiritual truths are unchanged: As always, the two key components of Ash Wednesday are prayer and meditation. It takes time and spiritual effort to allow God in, to share the innermost parts of you and cherish God above all other things, people and concepts (safety, health, etc.) in your life. Embrace that time with this earnest beginning.
Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith. Ash Wednesday service, BCP page 264
The Ash Wednesday service is the very first service listed in the BCP section of “Proper Liturgies for Special Days” (See page 264). Think of it a little like a spiritual new year, then. Like all liturgical services, it is both a lens and focal point. As a lens, the service focuses our attention on the theological and spiritual reality of our state and condition as creatures. As creatures go, we are foremost and precious in the mind and heart of God, but we are also simply created beings: broken and in need or redemption. So, we look with new eyes on ourselves and our lives as they truly are.
Ash Wednesday is itself, also a focal point, a moment in time that draws us away from everything else. The service demands our attention, as all services do, if we are going to focus that lens in a manner through which we can truly see the face of God.
This year we must take extra care as in all our services, to tend the “focal point.” As we gather by ZOOM or YouTube, the mechanics of how we are gathering will attempt to trivialize and distract us; in effect the mechanics can quickly become the focal point. We must resist this distraction in the same manner that we would resist focusing on a fly or particle of dust or other superficial distraction. Yet another opportunity for self-discipline God will help with if you ask.
I encourage you to prepare for our service beforehand by changing your gathering space to reflect our time together. A simple way to do this is to light a candle and place it where you can see it. Perhaps add a glass of water as well, a reminder that Jesus is the Water of Life and without this water we cannot live. You may choose to do more to your worship space, let the Spirit lead. In short, make the space different, dedicated and focused at this moment for this time together. Now that you are put in mind--embraced by the Focal Point, now you can focus that lens on the deeper message of the Gospel.
Like so many services, this service invites you to partake of a radical and profound action, an act of acknowledgement and reception which carries the power to alter your life. If we were gathered at church, you would walk to the altar rail and receive the Imposition of Ashes, but not this year. Far from being a “lesser sacrament,” this year’s “self-imposition”, or home-imposition, of ashes has the potential of power and revelation as yet unknown. You will take the ash, You say the words, You will hold symbol of life and death in your hand and choose. It’s a sacramental act with or without your faith and attention, for God’s work is immutable, but how much more meaningful and life-changing it can be with your spiritual investment.
The choice for Life come from the reality of death. It may seem strange to look or contemplate ash—the reduction of a thing to its absolute inert state, and see life, but that is what we do. Symbolically, the ash signifies the end of all things we want and desire that are not of God. The ash represents even hope and perspective, the love we feel and the pain we experience based on our desires in an earthly system that is falling away, though we try to hang on to it. Misguided focus and misappropriated effort are reduced to ash, and at last, our line of sight is broken and we see True Life—behind the Cross on our forehead.
So, how do I get ashes?
You will need a small bowl, a spoon, matches, and patience.
Here are several methods to consider (don’t miss #4):
Our Ash Wednesday Service will be the same and yet different. A wonderful, miraculous time of anticipation, manifestation, and revelation, through which God is present and you are blessed. Please call me with any questions on how I can assist you to be part of the Body on Ash Wednesday.
Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
Father Bill Burk†