Imagine my shock when I learned that the United Methodist Church did not start using ashes as an official ritual for Ash Wednesday until 1992. While the observance of Ash Wednesday has roots in the early church dating back centuries, the use of ashes themselves is a rather new introduction across denominations. Perhaps you are coming from another denomination that does not place much emphasis on the church liturgical calendar; if that is the case, Ash Wednesday may be an entirely new experience within your Christian life.
The imposition of ashes (where we place ashes on the head in the shape of the cross) is a reminder of our human sinfulness and human mortality. Using palms burned from last year’s Palm Sunday, we are reminded of the cyclical nature of life as the pastor performs the sign of the cross while saying, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). At the same time, Ash Wednesday and Lent allow us to prepare for what we know is to come: that sin and death have both been defeated in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Ash Wednesday starts off the season of Lent, the forty days leading up to Easter in which Christians observe spiritual disciplines related to fasting, repentance and prayer. While you might think that fasting is only related to food, many people practice other forms of fasting and abstention such as the limiting or withdrawal of a negative habit. Lest you think, though, that this is a form of Christian New Years resolutions, I would encourage you to consider how your desire to fast draws you into deeper communion with God. Perhaps fasting is not the way for you at this time; instead, you might add a spiritual discipline, such as waking up early, taking twenty minutes to pray, or taking a walk outside to give yourself space to engage with the divine. Let this be a time where you reflect on your own humanity made in God’s image. Dwell on your human nature, knowing that we are born sinful but are called to repent and move ever onward in our spiritual holiness.
I want to extend the invitation to you and remind you of all the ways you can reflect during your Lenten journey. Ash Wednesday is next Wednesday, February 14 (it could be said you can’t have VaLENTine’s Day with LENT). Please join us for ashes on the go at the corner of Centre and 6th or the Pocket Park by Amelia Island Coffee from 1:30 to 2:30pm or attend our 6 pm worship service in the sanctuary. Then, every Wednesday from February 21st until March 20th from 5pm to 7pm we will be hosting a meal and study on the Wesleyan means of grace.
Be sure to sign up for the meal at mumconline.com/news soon because spots are going quickly. If you do not want to eat but would still like to participate in the study, you are more than welcome to do so; there is no limit to our study size! And if you have any questions about Lent in general, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I’d love to have a longer conversation with you! I hope you will join us on this Lenten journey.