Here is the worship service for Ash Wednesday, which will be live as soon as this post is. This way, you can participate in worship on this day whenever it is most convenient for you. The worship bulletin for this service can be found here.
Instead of ashes for Ash Wednesday, we will be using common soil that can be found anywhere that soil can be found. You will only need a small amount, perhaps enough to fill your two hands cupped together. You won’t be asked to mark your forehead with the soil at all, so don’t worry about the cleanliness of the endeavor. It can be on a plate as it is during the service, or you can have it in any kind of receptacle that you’re comfortable having soil in. Instructions on what to do with the soil will be in the service itself (or you can read ahead in the bulletin).
Thank you for worshiping this day!
O God, may our hearts be opened to hear your Word, may we be humbled to feel your grace, and may our faith be increased by your unending love, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
So… this is different. A little weird. Kind of strange, even. Of course, I’m talking about having an Ash Wednesday service like this… online… and without ashes. I mean, doesn’t that defeat the purpose of Ash Wednesday? Doesn’t that kind of ruin the experience? Doesn’t it take all meaning out of the day and leave us with this empty shell of what it’s supposed to be? How much more can this pandemic take from us?
And I suppose I can see and understand this line of thinking. I can see how this pandemic has been so very disruptive and has forced us into such change that so many things are left unrecognisable. I can understand how we might feel like we don’t even need to bother with our spirituality and disciplines anymore, if ever at all, because what is the point? We can’t even gather in the church, for crying out loud. We can’t sing together. We can’t greet each other with a hug or hand shake. And we most certainly can’t get actual ashes smeared on our foreheads and be reminded that we’re dust and to dust we shall return.
So again, what’s the point?
What’s the point if we can’t do this together, we can’t journey with one another through Lent, we can’t keep each other accountable because we can’t actually see who is here in the church and who has decided to skip out? What is the point of sitting by ourselves in our homes watching this video and playing with a little dirt? Why do we even have this Ash Wednesday service at all?
Well, believe me when I say that I had to think long and hard about whether we should bother or not. I mean, it’s been tough enough to just put out one service online every week, I don’t really jump at the chance to put out two. And if that second one isn’t even all that helpful to have? Well then it would seem like a waste of time, if I’m being honest with you.
But then I got to thinking, what is Ash Wednesday even for? What is the point of kicking off Lent in this way year after year? Why do we even need ashes on our foreheads besides showing off to the world that we actually attended church on this day?
I found the answer to these questions in the Ash Wednesday readings, of all places. These are the same readings that we get every year, readings that talk about discipleship, discipline, and discovery of self. Readings that talk about repenting from sin, returning to God, and the reconciliation with God and each other. Readings that talk about living in humility, honouring God, and honest reflection of who we are and whose we are. These readings reminded me that really, this is what this day is about, this is what this season of Lent is about, and this is something that we probably should reflect on for more than just 40 days out of the year (if even that).
But can these things be done while we’re apart? Yes, of course they can, they aren’t dependant on having others in the room with you. Can we still have a proper Lent during pandemic? Surprisingly, it’ll probably be even more Lent because of this pandemic if that even makes sense. Can God be seen even in times like these? I actually think God is made to be more apparent because we need God to be more apparent, and this kind of landscape that we’re in right now actually lends itself to making God more apparent.
What I mean is that it’s in times like this pandemic, this time that the world is so different, this time that many of us are angry, frustrated, and tired, that we need to learn to rely on God and God’s strength with even more gusto and resolve. It’s in times like these when we have to be extra careful when dealing with others, extra safe in our conduct, and extra diligent in discerning fact from fiction that we can exercise our discipline, practice our care for each other, and really see how patient or impatient we really are. It’s in times like these when we haven’t seen each other in person for so long, we haven’t gathered in person in so long, and haven’t been able to worship in front of each other for so long, that we can finally be truly real with ourselves.
Because I think having our Ash Wednesday service like this is actually beneficial for our own reflection and recognising of our shortcomings since we don’t need to worry about who is watching, what others are thinking, and what kind of impression we’re leaving. I think it’s actually helpful to have Ash Wednesday in our own homes so we can honestly look at ourselves and not be concerned about the others around us. I might even argue that having this time somewhat private and to ourselves is better for own confession and repentance, because then we aren’t, how should we say, distracted by our innate need to confess the sins of others.
I mean let’s face it, we’re really good at that. We’re really good at seeing and recognising the shortcomings of those around us. We’re really good at pointing out how others are wrong. We’re really good at confessing the sin of everyone else… everyone else but ourselves. We’re not so good at confessing our own sin, our own need of forgiveness, our own need of repentance.
And that is what today is for.
It’s to remind us that we are sinners. that we are mortal, that we are but dust, and to dust we shall return.
This isn’t to put us down or bring shame onto ourselves. It isn’t to belittle who we are or make us feel bad. It isn’t even to guilt us into coming to church more, or at least watch these videos more often, as it were. Rather, reflecting on our sinfulness, our mortality, our being but dust is to show us just how much God loves us in spite of all that. It’s to reveal to us just how much God cherishes us and our limited time in this corporeal state. It is to remind us how God’s grace motivates and strengthens us to repentance, draws us into God’s love, and welcomes us into God’s community and kingdom.
But all that isn’t easy to see and feel when we don’t think we have any confessable sin, not like everyone else at least. It isn’t easy to feel the joy of salvation when we don’t think we need to be saved or that we can just save ourselves. It is darn near impossible to feel just how gracious God’s love is when we don’t see just how much we don’t deserve it.
And so I am thankful that we are worshipping at home today, that we might be more honest with ourselves of who we really are. I am thankful that we have this means to continue to worship with each other, even when we can’t see each other, but we know that we stand together in God’s grace and love and community. I am thankful that we have this unique opportunity to see the contrasts of this day: that as we are alone in our homes, we are gathered together in the Spirit; as we are unworthy we are made to be worthy by God’s grace; as we are imperfect and full of sin, God has made us perfect and forgives us of any guilt and shame that we might have been denying we even had.
So as we begin this season of Lent, as we look ahead to these 40 days of wilderness and scarcity, as we are reminded of our sinfulness and need of a Saviour, let us honestly reflect and humbly repent, recognising and admitting our fault and submitting to a merciful love and gracious forgiveness, that we be brought into the fullness of joy and hope of the Resurrection. Thanks be to God. Amen.