What? No Ashes?
In past years for Ash Wednesday there have been clergy that went into the streets and put ashes on passers-by. I know why they do it, but I have fussed with friends that this is like reminding total strangers that they are going to die. You have no idea the context in which they hear that reminder.
In the context of a community of faith, where we believe that God is active and holds our lives in his hands it begins to make sense. Within Christian belief, it is a practice that reminds us that we only have so much time to be faithful to fulfill the purpose for which God has made us; our days are numbered, and then we will stand before the God of grace and mercy revealed in the life of Jesus to answer for what we have done with the time we had. The readings in Lent will remind us of this.
But outside that context, outside of our faith, the message is: “You are going to die.”
Both messages are beneficial. Honestly most of us could use the reminder that death is going to put an end to our plans, but for us who follow Christ, the message is held very differently. When our plans end, God’s life for us is just getting started.
Last year at this time we were just becoming aware of the novel coronavirus and moving ahead with plans wondering what this might mean. Ash Wednesday came and went like nothing was much different with our world in Phoenix.
It was weeks later that the shut down came to us. By Palm Sunday, we had made adjustments, and it was a scramble. We looked hard at what other churches were doing and what we could do in our space. How could Christ Church commune distantly when what we needed was intimacy and unity?
I am not sure any of us had any idea how much we would need intimacy and unity over the months ahead, as weeks turned into months and the quarantine continued. So now, a year later, we see things differently. I know that we need the familiar. And the need for togetherness is greater than ever.
Some people have not felt free to receive communion in the intervening eleven months. Others have not missed a week since we reopened.
Here we are at Ash Wednesday 2021, and it will be different. We will not be imposing ashes this year.
Even though this is not a sacrament of the church, it is an important tradition. But among the different options the Bishop has offered the clergy, the most intimate for our parish is prayer.
We will pray the Great Litany together. And yes, there is a need to be reminded of the short time we have in this life to live out the call of a disciple, but this past year has held many reminders that each of our earthly lives are fragile and all too short. Let’s take hold of this opportunity to come together as one body in prayer. Prayer for repentance and reconciliation. Prayer for hope and healing.
Let us, Christ Church, pray together as one body to represent to the world the faith we have in God’s redeeming love and hold out that death is not the end of our story. Join us this Ash Wednesday as we come together, whether from home or in the pews, with one voice lifted in faith, hope, and love.
One faith. One body. One Lord.
The Very Rev. Daniel Paul Richards
Christ Church of the Ascension
Paradise Valley, Arizona