Thursday, 2 March 2017

Ash Wednesday re-visited





From the Church of the Good Shepherd, Watertown, MA

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I took myself to Church yesterday for the early morning Ash Wednesday service.  (It was not at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Watertown -  a friend of mine is the Rector there and I liked the drawing).; nor was at at the Parish I serve in retirement.  Every Ash Wednesday I go to the "big Church" in downtown Sarasota).

I come from the Low Church/Evangelical tradition in which ceremonies such as the Imposition of Ashes are sometimes regarded as superstitious, superficial and superfluous.

So I am often a bit on edge on Ash Wednesday.   I like to make a good beginning to Lent, but I am not so sure about the Ashes.  

(When I was a newly ordained Priest and full of my own wisdom and baloney I made a big thing about receiving Ashes in the parish I served.  That was more about me than about the people with whom I served.)

These days I chose not to receive them.  I am uneasy about that visible smudge on my forehead, and what it might say  to my sense of spiritual pride. 

That's an O.K. choice, just so long as I do not make the  choice itself  with a proud spirit.

And, to be sure, I am not making any statement about my brothers and sisters who receive Ashes as a part of their spiritual discipline.


[ The Ashes are traditionally made by burning the dried up Palms from the previous year.  That's a devilishly difficult thing to do - oh you should have seen the smoke and smelled the burning when I did so in  the big kitchen at St. Stephen's in Pittsfield, MA! ]
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Immediately before the Ashes are to be imposed the Minister says the following:


.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.


The reminder of mortality is salutatory and essential.  The call to repentance  (a word I like better than "penitence") is essential, and we are ever glad and in need  of the gospel reminder of the gift of eternal life.

Perhaps, as the Reformers might have said, the Ash Wednesday ceremony is a matter of (theological) indifference,   So I try not to get my knickers in a twist about it. And I understand the human need for ritual.

If they had asked me (ha ha), I would have suggested using real dirt from the good earth ( rather than burned up old palms), or, even better, rather than having anything "imposed", (a technical word in this case), the worshipers could be anointed with oil, - a sign of healing; or with water -  a sign of new life.

At age 72 my body, in small ways, is even now giving me reminders of my mortality. 

Ash Wednesday is yet one more reminder that I do not have unlimited time in which to forgive others; to own up to my wrongs; to allow my old hurts to be healed and forgotten; and to seek peace and reconciliation with those I have alienated by my self will, pride, actions and inactions.


...........behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation. 2 Cor 6:2 b  (KJV)




 (More tomorrow.... perhaps)

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