I cannot pass up this opportunity to point out a strange juxtaposition of events which will occur over the next few months. The church calendar (the cycle of seasons and days we follow so we may both encounter and embody the story of Jesus) and the secular calendar (with its own seasons and reasons for naming special days) meet in two ways this year: Ash Wednesday, the day Christians have for centuries set aside to mark the beginning of the season of Lent, a season of solemn preparation for Easter, occurs on February 14, which is, of course, Valentine’s Day, a day our culture sets aside to celebrate romantic love; and, if this were not enough, Easter, the highest and holiest of days for the church, will happen on April 1, April Fools’ Day, a day our culture sets aside for practical jokes. I will leave it to you to make what meaning you may from this confluence of events.
If, on Valentine’s Day, you also wish to observe Ash Wednesday, this is what I have for you. At 9 a.m., I will lead a brief service of worship which will include the Imposition of Ashes. Anyone who wishes to walk around the rest of the day with a smudge of ashes on their foreheads, a sign of the mortality and repentance, is welcome to attend. The ashes, by the way, come from the previous year’s palms used on Palm Sunday (another confluence of dates and events which might give us reason to think more deeply about what we are doing). The use of ashes in this ritual way has a long history in Jewish and Christian worship, and participating in the Imposition of Ashes is an experiential way to participate in a call to repentance and reconciliation. The intention of this ritual act is to prompt us to begin the spiritual work of getting ourselves right with God and right with our neighbors. Although some people think of Lent as a dour downer, the season’s purpose is make us ready to experience a full measure of joy on Easter. Lent is our opportunity to do a bit of spiritual Spring cleaning, if you will, and that all begins on Ash Wednesday.
I hope to see many you on Ash Wednesday. I hope to see many of you each of the Sundays of Lent. Remember, too, that Lent is 40 days, a span which does not include the Sundays. Curious thing. Whoever made up the tradition knew we would need a break from the spiritual work of Lent, so left the Sundays out that we might meet in each Sunday a foreshadowing of Easter along the way. Joy to you, Christian, and may you experience a Holy Lent.