I've heard that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. This week I had planned to write about Ash Wednesday, and to invite you to set aside next Wednesday evening, February 10, at 7:00 p.m. This week I received the electronic newsletter for Kaw Prairie Community Church, and I thought Pastor Dan McKnight's essay about Ash Wednesday was awesome! So, without attempting to re-invent the wheel, I give you Dan McKnight:
"Like both liturgical churches and hip young independent ones, Kaw Prairie begins the Christian season of Lent with a 7:00pm Ash Wednesday service in the evening....There’s no spiritual foul called for wiping the ashes off in your car, but many of us try to leave the ashes on as both a faith-conversation-starter (What’s on your forehead — are you Hindu?) or as a simple, quiet declaration of our sin and need for Jesus (Seriously, Dan, what are those ashes suppose to mean?)....
Lent comes from an old word for Spring, but it’s the church’s term for a 40-day long season of fasting, sacrifice and spiritual preparation leading up to Easter. During Lent, we Christians commit to reflecting on Jesus’ sacrifice and love for us in more intense, personal ways. The 40-day season, of course, is a ‘human’ invention of the church (originating in the ancient 325 AD Council of Nicea), but the 40-days themselves reflect the Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness after his baptism and before his formal ministry started.
Pope Gregory the Great (c.540-604) moved the beginning of the season from a Sunday to a Wednesday, now called Ash Wednesday, to make the exact number of days in Lent to be forty — since he was not counting Sundays, which were feast days — perhaps a lifeline to those who can’t give up chocolate more than 6 days in a row. (If you decide to make a sacrifice of some food or activity during Lent, you could choose to take Sundays off all the way until Easter, or count 40 days uninterrupted from Ash Wednesday to Passion Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week.) According to Tom Olsen, Pope Gregory created the Ashing ceremony that gives the day its name. As Christians came to the church for forgiveness, Gregory would mark their foreheads with ashes reminding them of the biblical symbol of repentance (sackcloth and ashes) and mortality: "You are dust, and to dust you will return." (Gen 3:19)
Those are the same words you’ll hear next Wednesday — because when we remember how fragile our life is, we tend to be more grateful for the gift of Jesus for making our life so joyful and free. I invite you to walk through Lent this year with either a sacrifice in your diet or life, or a spiritual addition like journaling or a family prayer commitment. But I also invite you to start it all off with an ancient act of Christ-honoring repentance and commitment called the Imposition of Ashes – 15 centuries after it first began. See you Wednesday!"
I would only add a couple of thoughts about adding a spiritual discipline of some kind during Lent. First, remember that a sacrifice isn't about giving something up, it is about creating an opportunity in your spirit for something greater. So, the point of fasting, or journaling, or prayer, or silence, is to open yourself to your need for God and your relationship with God. Keep that in mind if you decide to give up something related to diet, or Facebook, or Candy Crush! Second, remember that adopting a spiritual discipline of any kind at any time is never about us, "getting closer to God," or "becoming more spiritual." Phrases like that make it seem like the focus is on us, and our activity becomes yet another expression of our busy and hurried lives. I like what Ruth Haley Barton writes about spiritual disciplines. They are, "concrete activities that we engage in in order to make ourselves available for the work only God can do." Notice the balance. We engage in the activity. The activity makes us available to the work only God can do. We don't make it happen, we make ourselves available.
Our Ash Wednesday service at New Springs will be Wednesday, February 10, 2016, at 7:00 p.m. I look forward to seeing you there as we make ourselves available for the work that only God can do!