Why Ash Wednesday?
Wait, we have to go to church on Wednesdays now?? In the busyness of life, it can be hard to imagine where to find the time to add one more thing to the docket. Since it always helps me to understand what I am doing and why, this month I’m going to lay out (clearly, I hope) why 40 days before Easter we do a service on a Wednesday night called Ash Wednesday. Hopefully, this will help encourage you to come to these Lenten worships this year. And my encouragement begins with a cheery subject: our mortality.
At different times in our lives, we are struck by our own mortality. One of these times is at a funeral service, especially one for someone close to us or around the same age. In a Lutheran funeral service, we start by saying the words of Paul: “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4) This is an important reminder to us at the beginning of the service to remind us our mortal life is taken away in baptism and replaced with the gift of Jesus’s life eternal.
Another time we are reminded of our mortality is at the beginning of Lent, on Ash Wednesday (this year on March 6th). At this worship, we receive the sign of ashes on our foreheads, a sign of our mortality and also our recognition of the need for repentance. But keeping in mind the reminder from Paul we apply these ashes using the mark of Christ's cross, linking our mortality to our baptism and, again, that gift of new life. In our baptism, we remember the promises that God gives to us daily of love mercy and grace.
Ash Wednesday also gives this opportunity to signify the need in our lives to repent. To turn away from the things that take away life and to return to the one who gives us life abundant. This moment of reflection concerning repentance is helpful on a number of levels but especially concerning the relationships we have with others and with God. This is a chance to evaluate if where you are is where you want to or should be. Coming forward to the altar in repentance gives you the chance you might need to signal change is ahead.
So to answer the question at the beginning of the article, no, you don’t have to come to church on any day. But coming together on Ash Wednesday joins us side by side in the holy—and sometimes difficult—work of turning to God. It makes the bitter pill of mortality and reality easier to swallow. And in this joining together, we get a deeper understanding of what the psalmist means when he says, “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy” (Psalm 30:11). In our community on March 6th, we will understand that we are not alone in what we are facing, but together. It’s the reason I show up on Ash Wednesday, and as the years pass, it’s the reason I start to look forward to it.
May God’s richest blessings be upon you this Lent, and may you feel the call to join in this sacred space of worshiping together.