Ash Wednesday

We started by looking at some of the history of Lent and Ash Wednesday

History of the beginning of Lent
Shrove Tuesday Traditionally viewed as a day of repentance, Shrove Tuesday has become the last day for celebration and feasting before the period of fasting required during the Lenten season. The name “Shrove Tuesday” is derived from the word “shrive”, which means to confess and receive absolution. The name denotes a period of cleansing, wherein a person brings their lusts and appetites under subjection through abstention and self-sacrifice.

The concept behind this practice is found in 1 Corinthians 9:27, where the Apostle Paul states: “I buffet my body and make it my slave…” Ironically, Shrove Tuesday has evolved into a day of frivolity and indulgence, during which people participate in as much pleasure and self-gratification as they can before Lent begins.
Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday,” was a celebration of life’s excesses before the austere self-sacrifices of the Christian season of Lent. It received its name from the tradition of slaughtering and feasting upon a fattened calf on the last day of Carnival. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, forty days before Easter, and includes a much more proscribed lifestyle for practicing Catholics: no meat on Fridays (formerly a year-round proscription until it was relaxed by Vatican II in the 1960s), and the requirement to sacrifice something dear, such as chocolate, during the forty days of Lent. Mardi Gras, which falls the day before Lent begins, was the final hurrah; excesses frowned upon at any other time of the year were viewed with a blind eye. (cant you see why we Louisianians love it so much)

Even ancient days, people marked times of fasting, prayer and repentance, and remorse by placing ashes on their foreheads. Examples found in;

2 Samuel 13:19, Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornate robe she was wearing. She put her hands on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went.

Esther 4:1 – 3, 1 When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly.

Job 42:6 6 Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

Jeremiah 6:26 Put on sackcloth, my people, and roll in ashes; mourn with bitter wailing
as for an only son, for suddenly the destroyer will come upon us.

This custom entered the church from Judaism. Ash Wednesday marks the onset of a period of sober reflection, self examination and spiritual redirection. At first only public penitents received the ashes, they were made to appear barefooted at the church and perform penances for their sins. Friends and relatives began to accompany them and gradually the ashes were given to the whole congregation.
At first there was no specific length of time for fasting before Easter, and the people who fasted were probably only those to be baptized during the Easter festival.

Irenaeus (AD 180) testifies in the second century that there was a variety of lengths of time people fasted for but a little later Tertullian (AD 200) suggests that Catholics fasted two days prior to Easter, but that the Montanists (a heretical sect that Tertullian later joined) fasted longer.
Biblical fasts like those of Moses, Elijah, and especially Jesus, probably influenced the later fixed time of 40 days. The Canons of Nicaea (AD 325) were the first to mention 40 days of fasting.

Reading – Luke 4
Jesus Is Tested in the Wilderness
1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,2 where for forty days he was tempted[a] by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’[b]”
5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’[c]”
9 The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[d]”
12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[e]”
13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.
Initially the forty day Lenten fast began on a Monday, and was intended only for those who were preparing to enter the Church at Easter. Lent still begins on a Monday in many Eastern churches. Eventually the West began Lent on Ash Wednesday. In the Western Christian calendar, Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent and occurs forty-six days (forty days not counting Sundays) before Easter..
Ash Wednesday gets its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of the faithful as a sign of repentance. The ashes used are gathered after the Palm Crosses from the previous year’s Palm Sunday are burned. In the liturgical practice of some churches, the ashes are mixed with one of the sacred oils used to anoint those about to be baptized), though some churches use ordinary oil. This paste is used by the minister who presides at the service to make the sign of the cross, first upon his or her own forehead and then on those of congregants. The minister recites the words: “Remember (O man) that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”, or “Repent, and believe the Gospel.”
The East has no equivalent to Ash Wednesday.
The purpose of Lent is to be a season of fasting, self-denial, Christian growth, penitence, conversion, and simplicity. Lent, which comes from the Teutonic (Germanic) word for springtime, can be viewed as a spiritual spring cleaning: a time for taking spiritual inventory and then cleaning out those things which hinder our corporate and personal relationships with Jesus Christ and our service to him.

Quiet reflection while reading;
1. Forty days alone,
a wilderness of thoughts,
tempting and inviting thoughts,
which could so easily have distracted you
from your task, your mission,
your vision.
Yet you emerged, stronger and more attuned
to all that had to be done,
despite a time constraint
that to our eyes would have seemed hopeless.
We too live in stressful times.
Demands are made of our time,
that leave so little
for the important things of life.
We are easily distracted
in the wilderness of our lives,
by every call to go this way or that,
to turn stone to bread
leap from mountains,
and do all that would keep us from the truth.
We listen to the voices of this world,
and ignore the one who endured all this
and so much more,
and emerged triumphant,
that we might not have to suffer so.
Forgive us, Father,
when we get distracted from our task.
Forgive us those times when we try
to be all things to all men,
and fail to be anything to anyone

and

2. It is customary, Lord
to give something up
during the season of Lent.
What would you have me do without?
I who have so much.
Chocolate?
Cream cakes?
Cigarettes?
Sweets?
Swearing?
The list is endless
and I could give up all those things
for the span of 40 days
quite easily and almost painlessly.
But what difference would it make
other than making me feel ‘holier’
that my friend who makes no such sacrifice?
What would you have me do without?
I who have so much
Selfishness?
Conceit?
Envy?
Pride?
I fear before I ask,
that the answer might be ‘yes’
and the giving up
would be all too real, Lord.
It would be difficult,
painful,
sacrificial,
a real cross to carry for 40 days,
and more?

Whilst Harry burned some old palm crosses we said;

In the blazing light of your love
our failings are illuminated
our failure to give
our failure to love
our failure to follow
our failure to serve
our failure to be the people
you would have us be.
Forgive us and renew us.
You know our nature
know our failings
Enfold us in your arms
that we might daily know
your forgiveness and healing love.

Using the ash which we mixed with water from the River Jordan we said to one another;

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness. Psalm 103.8

Closing prayer
Lord, grant us simplicity of faith
And a generosity of service
That gives without counting cost
A life overflowing with Grace
Poured out from the One
Who gave everything
That we might show
The power of love
To a broken world
And share the truth
From a living Word
Lord, grant us simplicity of faith
And a yearning to share it

We dipped bread in oil (symbolising the Holy Spirit) as an affirmation and read;

May we know the love of the heavenly Father deep in our hearts,
May we understand our significance in the centre of His family, and the bonds that hold us so close as brother and sister
May we understand the lengths that He was prepared to go for all mankind and freely respond in the Today which he has given for us to cherish.
Repeat until all had bread
Amen

Many thanks to http://www.faithandworship.co.uk for ideas, liturgy and inspiration

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