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You're Invited on February 18th - Ash Wednesday

February 04 2015
February 04 2015

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At noon on February 18th, Redeemer invites you to attend its first ever Ash Wednesday Worship Service. During this service and for those desiring, Redeemer will mark worshippers with ashes in the sign of the cross. I recognize that for some of our members this observance will be warmly familiar. Others though might find this practice objectionable. It’s my experience that many Christians, whether they grew up observing Ash Wednesday or not (like me), remain unclear about its meaning and its relation to the larger season of Lent. Therefore, I want to try and address these questions in this blog post.

First of all, Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. By the fourth and fifth centuries, Christians in the West had begun to associate the Lenten period of fasting with Christ’s forty-day fast in the wilderness (Matt. 4:2ff). When we count backwards forty days from Easter (excluding Sundays, which remain celebratory in remembrance of the resurrection), Christians arrived at the Wednesday seven weeks before Easter.

Additionally, given the large influx of new Christians at this point in history, this forty-day season was preparatory for recent converts. During Lent, they would prepare to receive their first baptism on Easter Sunday. Later, however, this season became a general time of reflection and renewal for all Christians. Today, this forty day season is practiced by Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, and prepares us for celebrating Easter’s victory by remembering the reasons for and the pathway of the cross.

The specific aim of Ash Wednesday, then, is to launch us into this Lenten season. This aim can be further distinguished into three purposes for the Christian: 1) to meditate on our mortality, sinfulness and need of a savior; 2) to renew our commitment to daily repentance in the Lenten season and in all of life; and 3) to remember with confidence and gratitude that Christ has conquered death and sin.

Ash Wednesday worship and the entire Lenten season, then, are filled with Gospel truth. As I wrote about last year in my blog regarding the observance of Lent, this season should neither be “viewed as an empty ritual characterized by trivial acts of self-denial” and nor does it distort the Christian faith, “perpetuating the notion that we actually contribute something to our salvation through self-denial.” (cf. What is Lent Anyway?) Rather, through tangible and symbolic forms, Ash Wednesday bears “witness to the power and beauty of our union with Christ and to the daily dying and rising with Christ this entails.” (The Worship Sourcebook, 541)

The imposition of ashes with the sign of the cross and accompanied by the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” is a central part of the worship service. Ashes have a long history in Biblical and church traditions. In Scripture ashes or dust symbolize frailty or death (Gen. 3:19, 18:27), sadness or mourning (Esther 4:3; Job 2:8), judgment (Lam. 3:16), and repentance (Jon. 3:6). All of these themes are present in the church’s use of ashes during this worship service. The imposition of ashes, therefore, is a symbolic, vivid and tangible reminder of our sinfulness and mortality and of our utter dependence upon the grace of God and the power of Christ's resurrection.

Nevertheless, if you choose to attend the worship service you should not feel compelled to come forward to receive ashes. Neither should this practice be seen as a way of displaying one's piety before others. (In fact, there is nothing inappropriate about removing the ashes from your forehead upon exiting the sanctuary, if you so choose.) Rather, is it is hoped that Ash Wednesday ushers each worshipper (ashes or no ashes) into this Lenten season, leading to a heightened sense of reflection upon our need for Jesus Christ’s saving work and to a deepening commitment in our discipleship of him.

  • In order to better help you and your family observe Lent, please consult the book table in the church foyer for several recent additions, including the Children’s Lent Devotional Guide.

Details: Wednesday, February18th, 12:00 - 1 p.m., (childcare not available)


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