February 15, 2010

Contemplating Ash Wednesday

Sue Tanida is a Christian and lifelong intuitive. Her blog, Angelic Insights, is about angels, animals, and God’s love for all of us.

This Wednesday, millions of Christians will attend church to commemorate the beginning of Lent. The traditional observances, dating back to the 10th century, are observed by the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican/Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal (“AME”), United Methodist, and Presbyterian as well as other Reformed churches.

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21, the customary gospel reading, with its admonition against public piety may strike some as contradictory. After all, the liturgy for Ash Wednesday usually includes inscribing a cross with ashes on the forehead of each congregant.

For me, however, the passage from Matthew actually helps highlight Lent as a time to renew one’s faith—a time of renewed prayer, fasting, charity, and a time of reflection on Jesus’ redemptive suffering.

I’m comfortable with hearing the gospel reading and then receiving ashes as a symbol of repentance and mortality because the scripture passage is all about cultivating an interior experience of faith rather than impressing others. I receive ashes to honor the fact that I am mortal and my body will return to dust one day, but thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus, my soul will go on. What about you?


Meredith Gould said...

My willingness to receive ashes seems to vary from year-to-year and not just because I don't want to clog my pores.

Sometimes the juxaposition between this sacramental and the gospel reading is too much for my raised-Jewish self to manage. At other times, I've felt very prompted by the Holy Spirit to receive this public witness of faith.

What I do find powerful, is the blessing of signing people with ashes, especially people who are clearly coming to the end of their life on earth.

Anna Climacus said...

I think that the ashes must be considered in their liturgical context. These ashes come from the palms of the Triumphal Entry of Jerusalem. Moreover Western Rites affix the ashes through anointing with oil, a sign of Christ's humanity that is ever with us. The Eastern Rites of the Church mark the opening of Great Lent by signing the Paschal Canon in hushed tones; at the beginning we look to the ending. We do not pray, fast and give alms to prove ourselves to God; we pray, fast and give alms as a prescription for our salvation. Considered in their full liturgical context where the imposition of ashes is not a practice done for its own sake but done to remind us of Christ's victory over death and of the healing He promises, I do not think the practice goes against the gospel. However, if we do not approach the fast with joy, if we lose awareness of Christ's victory, if we sign ourselves out to mark solely our suffering, if we forget how we united ourselves to Christ in His Passion and Resurrection in our baptism, then I think we have engaged in the exercise of missing the point that St Matthew records in his gospel.

May God go with you on your Lenten journey +

Sue said...

Wow, both powerful points...

Meredith, I do feel that annointing people, whether with oil or ashes, is a powerful thing. I've actually felt my sinuses open up and allergies dissipate for a while, right after being annointed for healing.

I like Anna's point about the joy. Yes, we empty ourselves through fasting in order to more deeply experience His Presence, not to beat ourselves up or do penance. As the liturgy says, Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again...

Thank you both.

claire said...

Redemptive suffering. You're right. And though I will have to dwell on this a while.
Thank you.