Tag Archives: ash wednesday

A Season for Holy Use

Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of the season of Lent. Traditionally, Lent has been observed by the Church as a 40 day period of preparation for that most sacred time in the Church Year, Holy Week and Easter Sunday.

In many ancient cultures, there is a time-honored custom of giving a tenth of each year’s income toward holy use. For Christians, observing the forty days of Lent is to do the same thing with roughly a tenth of the days of our year. Hence, it is the intentional setting aside of a season in our schedules for holy use, marked by serious and consistent spiritual reflection, abstinence and fasting, caring for the poor, and a clear intent to refrain from sin, particularly habitual sin.

So then, Lent is a serious and sober time in the calendar of the Christian church where we are all urged toward a greater reality of our limitations and our sinfulness. It is meant to kindle in us a “bright sadness” where we take stock of our relationship with Christ, recognize our failures, remember our deepest longings, and renew our hope in our Lord. Therefore, do not be surprised when you notice a more somber tone in the prayers, songs, sermons, and liturgy on Sunday mornings. For example, after this Sunday, “Alleluias!” will strikingly disappear from our lips as we intentionally turn from rejoicing to repentance. They will not return until Easter morning when we celebrate our risen Lord.

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. Our Ash Wednesday services this week, for instance, remind us, lest we forget, that we are a frail and inadequate. A priest marks our foreheads with ashes, a reminder of our mortal nature. The words spoken during the imposition of the ashes are:

Remember, O Man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.

These are the same words first spoken by God on the day of the fall in Genesis 3:19. They echo down the long corridor of the centuries: “Remember! You are dust! To dust you will return!” We live with this reality ever before us.

Thanks be to God, this is not where the story ends! While Lent begins with the reminder of our finitude it points us, it sends us off towards that great victory our Lord won in his Resurrection on Easter Sunday! This is why the ashes (marks of mortality) are placed on your forehead in the form of a cross to remind you and all who see you that though you will surely die there is One over whom death has NO claim. And His death is the destruction of death itself, the wiping out of sin, and the promise of unending life.

As we approach Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent, begin to meditate on the Collect for Ash Wednesday below. Consider your life and your relationship with the Living God. Ask him to enable you to give this season in your life over to him for his most holy use.

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

-Rev. David Hyman

(Initially published on BlackBeans.)

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Lent: A Passageway to Freedom

During yesterday’s Morning Prayer with the staff, we read Matthew 6:16-24 and Deuteronomy 4:15-24.  Deuteronomy warns us against idolatry; in the Matthew passage Jesus exhorts us to not lay up treasures on earth.  We got into a discussion about the tension between receiving God’s material blessings as gifts from the good hand of God and becoming idolaters of these same gifts.  Good food, beautiful homes, art, music, opportunities and means for play and recreation, can all be received as “the gifts of God.”  Unfortunately, any of us can learn to love the gift more than the Giver and find ourselves unwitting idolaters.  The human soul has an amazing capacity to take anything God gives and make it an idol.  (Have you ever met anyone who made an idol of theology?  I have.)

At the same time, our souls are no better off with an asceticism which fails to see the goodness of created life and the material world.  C.S. Lewis wisely observes about “the gluttony of over-meticulous eaters” – people who are so picky that few things meet their standards of taste, health, novelty, or organicness (that’s my word: lest you think I’m criticizing you, I am a Whole Foods geek).

So what the answer?  The wisdom of the Church fathers was to strike a healthy balance between feasting and fasting.  “God has given us all thing richly to enjoy” – so feast!  Celebrate!  Great food and wine, smells that tantalize, beautiful table decorations, laughter and joy with friends and family, the best jazz piano playing the background: receive it as a gift from the hand of God.  “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful.  All things are lawful for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything” – so fast!  Stop feasting on the gifts, and feast on the Giver.

Fasting is the great practical antidote to idolatry.  It allows us to lay aside for a period the thing that is in danger of taking over our hearts and becoming our treasure.  It allows us to realize that the creation is not nearly as sweet as the Creator.  It frees up time and energy to focus on nurturing the soul and to insure that, yes, we can actually survive without the thing to which we have become habituated (a word dangerously close to addicted).  Our lives are really not dependent on that thing – in fact, it is a gift from God, and God is better than the gift.

Lent is part of the regular cycle of feasting and fasting built into the Christian year.  It is a time of fasting.  I find it wonderfully freeing to entirely forego something for a period of time and have my growing, idolatrous addictions nipped in the bud.  It makes the times of feasting so much more delightful.  But is not just a season of freedom from: it is also a season of freedom to.  It is a time of feasting on the Lord – of a much quieter approach that gives my soul space to listen and hear the voice of the Father.  And there is no greater freedom than that.

-Rev. Steve Breedlove

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Please join the community of All Saints Church for our Ash Wednesday Services on March 9!

Brief service including imposition of ashes: 12-12:30pm
Ash Wednesday Eucharist Service followed by opportunity to receive soaking prayer:  7pm

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