ASH WEDNESDAY
& learning about LENT

February 17, 2021
Today is a special day in our church year.

Let's learn about Ash Wednesday, ashes, imposition, fasts & more - as we begin our journey through Lent. . . to Easter!
Ash Wednesday ashes cross
Here are some definitions!

Ash Wednesday:
is the first of the 40 days of Lent. It's named for the custom of placing blessed ashes on the foreheads of worshipers at Ash Wednesday services. 

The Ash Wednesday service is one of the "Proper Liturgies for Special Days" in our Book of Common Prayer. You can read it, beginning on page 264.
This year's Ash Wednesday service is virtual - see our recent email for info.
Impose
1. (v. t.) To lay on; to set or place; to put; to deposit.
Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary

Imposition of Ashes:
Ashes may be imposed on the heads of participants in the Ash Wednesday service as a sign of mortality and penitence. The ashes are imposed with these words:

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19)

Ashes are typically imposed by inscribing a cross on the forehead. (Like this: down, across. The ashes may feel smooth, or a little crunchy. You might be able to smell oil that's mixed in with the ashes.)

Imposition of ashes has been practiced on Ash Wednesday since the 9th century. It's a symbol - a powerful one.

Others can see the cross of ashes on your forehead (they may say, "You have something on your forehead!"). You can see your ashes when you look in the mirror, or feel them when you touch your face. They may fall into your eyelashes! You may wash them off when you are ready, or at bedtime.

Note: Anyone can impose blessed ashes, using the words and sign (see above). And - you can commemorate Ash Wednesday without having ashes imposed.
Ashes, blessed:
are made by burning blessed palms from previous Palm Sunday services (sometimes mixing them with a little oil); these ashes are then blessed.

The Old Testament frequently mentions the use of ashes as an expression of humiliation and sorrow.

These ashes are a sign of penitence (feeling sad for having done wrong),
and a reminder of mortality (everybody dies),
and they may be imposed (see above) with the sign of the cross.

Because these palms and ashes have been blessed, they are considered sacred. The best way to dispose of any leftovers is by burning them, or by burying them in the earth. . . "to return to dust."
Ash Wednesday is observed as a fast
in the church year of the Episcopal Church.

What's a fast? 
The Episcopal Dictionary tells us this:

"Fasting is abstaining wholly or partially from all or certain foods, for physical or spiritual health. As a spiritual discipline, fasting is an act of contrition, cleansing, and preparation." Christians and others fast, for many reasons. The extent and rigor of a fast (how long and how strictly followed) depends on custom and circumstance.

Ancient Jews fasted; Christ taught it and practiced it. Early Christians chose to fast for one or two days, or longer. Some would fast for forty days, in an imitation of Jesus' 40 days of fasting in the wilderness, his temptation in the desert (see Matthew 4:1-11).

Now, we, too, might choose to fast on Ash Wednesday, on some days, or for the entire season of Lent, the 40 days before Easter (not counting Sundays, which are always celebration days!).

Be thoughtful, be penitential, and be healthy while fasting:
your body is precious.
St Paul wrote this: "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body."
1 Corinthians 6:19-20
What is Lent?

Lent = from an Old English word, lencten - the time of lengthening days: Springtime! Lent is about preparation for Jesus' Resurrection: Easter!

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, lasting 40 days through Holy Saturday, (not counting Sundays). The last three days of Lent (days # 38, 39, and 40) are the sacred Triduum: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.

You are invited “to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word” (BCP, p. 265).
In our church, the season of Lent brings changes:

In what we may see:
  • no flowers or decorations on the altar (the fair linen remains)
  • chalices and other items are simpler than usual - maybe pottery or wood, for instance
  • no Paschal Candle
  • no fancy vestments worn by clergy
  • many (if not all) crosses are veiled
  • the color purple, everywhere

In what we may hear:
  • we don't say (or sing) alleluia during Lent. On the last Sunday of Epiphany (February 14, this year), up to Shrove Tuesday (February 16), it is time to bury the alleluia. (Alleluias burst forth at the first service of Easter!)

  • you'll hear other changes in the words and music of our worship service, too. There's a somberness during this thoughtful time of penitence.

Change can be difficult.
Change can bring change.
What might change in you, this Lenten season?
A Godly Play story for you:

Watch and wonder about the 6 serious weeks of Lent.
I wonder what this can mean: "Sadness and happiness come together to make joy."
And here is a book, full of wonder, that could be a lovely resource:

At a quiet time, perhaps light a candle and pray these words + your own, too:

This is Isaiah 58:6-12, from the Ash Wednesday service readings: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/lectionary/ash-wednesday/
The entire service is here.

6 Is not this the fast that I choose:
   to loose the bonds of injustice,
   to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
   and to break every yoke?

7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
   and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
   and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
   and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
   the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.

9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
   you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you,
   the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
   and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
   and your gloom be like the noonday.

11 The Lord will guide you continually,
   and satisfy your needs in parched places,
   and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
   like a spring of water,
   whose waters never fail.

12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
   you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
   the restorer of streets to live in.
I wonder what you think about all of this?
I am thinking and praying, too.
We'll walk together through this season.