Sometimes we resist traditions outside our own branch of the Christian faith, and do so for reasons we don’t totally comprehend ourselves. Today I received in my email a post from Vic Williams, one of our Jesus People USA pastors, about just such a tradition: Ash Wednesday. Today, in case anyone hadn’t noticed…
JPUSA is having an Ash Wednesday service tonight. And here’s what Vic had to say about that:
Many of us come to JP from diverse backgrounds. Some are from high church traditions, informal traditions, no church background at all, etc. We have purposely worked to introduce many different expressions of worship to our spiritual lives. But sometimes those varieties need some explanation.
Ash Wednesday is a special annual service which sets the spiritual tone for the season of Lent. The emphasis is on repentance — turning one or more areas of your life around (i.e., forsaking the old, introducing a new, good discipline). Part of the service is receiving the ashes (imposition) on your forehead is an outward sign of an inward commitment.
An unspoken question: Will the service or receiving the ashes make me “more Catholic”?
If you find yourself becoming more Catholic after reading the works of Jean Vanier, Henry Nouwen, or Mother Teresa, then the answer is yes. But seriously, the service and receiving the ashes is 1) a commitment for repentance and 2) an outward sign of your commitment — nothing more, nothing less.
Hope you can make it to our Ash Wednesday service,
p.s. Here is a portion from a Lutheran website for more details:
the pouring of ashes on one’s body (and dressing in sackcloth, a very rough material) as an outer manifestation of inner repentance or mourning is an ancient practice. It is mentioned several times in the Old Testament. What is probably the earliest occurrence is found at the very end of the book of Job. Job, having been rebuked by God, confesses, “Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). Other examples are found in 2 Samuel 13:19, Esther 4:1,3, Isaiah 61:3, Jeremiah 6:26, Ezekiel 27:30, and Daniel 9:3. In the New Testament, Jesus alludes to the practice in Matthew 11:21: “Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.”
In the typical Ash Wednesday observance, Christians are invited to the altar to receive the imposition of ashes, prior to receiving the holy Supper. The Pastor applies ashes in the shape of the cross on the forehead of each, while speaking the words, “For dust you are and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). This is of course what God spoke to Adam and Eve after they eaten of the forbidden fruit and fallen into sin. These words indicated to our first parents the bitterest fruit of their sin, namely death. In the context of the Ash Wednesday imposition of ashes, they remind each penitent of their sinfulness and mortality, and, thus, their need to repent and get right with God before it is too late. The cross reminds each penitent of the good news that through Jesus Christ crucified there is forgiveness for all sins, all guilt, and all punishment.