Dear Beloved in Christ

A Christmas card that I received from friends drew a numerical connection between the perfect eyesight of 20/20 and the year 2020 that seemed anything but perfect.  But it went on to point out that perhaps the gift of 2020 was an opportunity to refocus and see more clearly, as times of challenge and crisis often do afford.

Now it is 2021, and the challenges continue and the opportunities for re-visioning are still very much available to us.  In this spirit, I would like to encourage you to make good use of next week’s Ash Wednesday observance.  And to make the most of the day and its traditions, some preparation might be in order.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of our annual Lenten journey.  A journey that ends at the empty tomb of Jesus proclaiming new life for all.  And in order to truly appreciate the fullness of grace in that ending place, we must start by confronting our own death.  The words spoken are:  REMEMBER THAT YOU ARE DUST AND TO DUST YOU SHALL RETURN.

The church created the ritual of ashing foreheads to go along with these words and to drive home the weight of their significance.  For many, this is a very moving ritual and reminder.

There is no reason why you cannot make your own ashes and apply them as you worship.  One suggestion for making ashes to be used for this purpose is to write on a small piece of paper one’s sins, regrets, shortcomings, those parts of us that we want to see die, and then safely burn the piece of paper and use the ashes. If you do choose to make your own ashes, either use them dry or mix with oil. DO NOT use water – it creates a chemical reaction and can burn your skin.

We will provide ashes at the church at noon in a safe manner for both worshipper and staff.  If you would like to come by for ashes and cannot be here during the noon hour, please feel free to contact the church office and make an appointment.

However, for many of you, this will not be possible.  In the quiet and the isolation of these days, perhaps you will have more time to think on the significance of Ash Wednesday as we continue in facing these challenges.  Maybe this is the year to broaden our meditation on our mortality and engage other symbols beyond the ashes.

  • Take dirt from a flowerpot you have.  Dirty your hands and recall the creation story – God taking dust and making humans.  Left to ourselves, this is all that will be left of us.
  • Consider your own funeral.  Write notes regarding hymns you would want sung, readings you would want included.  What will best express your faith journey?  And pass this along to the church office so that we might keep it on file.
  • Say a short blessing over the mask you use when you venture outside, praying that, even as we are surrounded by constant reminders of our mortality, we are also surrounded by constant reminders of community care.
  • Take a piece of old cloth and rip it.  Let it be a symbol of the rending of your heart so that Christ my enter anew. Praying:  Create in me a new heart.
  • Mark your forehead with the sign of the cross, using oil or water, remembering that our baptismal journey is completed in death.
  • Our skin also contains oil – you can use your thumb to inscribe the sign of the cross on your forehead or hand. Being reminded of our own mortality by being fully present in the sensations of our bodies, which are connected to the physical body of the earth.

In our worship next Wednesday, during the time in the liturgy that is usually dedicated to the imposition of ashes, the familiar Taize chant – JESUS, REMEMBER ME WHEN YOU COME INTO YOUR KINGDOM -will be sung.  They are the words of a thief dying on a cross.  One who deserves nothing, asking for everything from Jesus.  Use this time to employ what you have decided is most meaningful to you as we look up from our earthly graves to the kingdom of life knowing the God in Christ Jesus does indeed remember us and does not forsake us, giving us everything – new life, eternal life.

Attached here are the bulletins for the worship and below is the Zoom link that can be used for either liturgy.  As we do on Sundays, you will also be able to attend on Facebook.

Peace be yours as we observe this most solemn day,

Pastor Mark

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