Beginning Our Lenten Journey

By Pastor Annemarie
Next Wednesday, February 17, is Ash Wednesday, the day we in the church mark our foreheads with ash. It is the most somber day of the church year (including Good Friday), in which we spend time taking a clear-eyed look at ourselves, confessing our sins, acknowledging to God and one another the ways in which we fail to follow God’s will for ourselves and the world.
Yet we do not wallow in guilt or shame—we are ever and always an Easter people, forgiven and set free by God in Christ! Set free for new life today and sent out to serve so that all would know the new life and hope of God’s Kingdom come. We begin worship hearing, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” but we end hearing, “The body and blood of Christ, given and shed for you.” We remember our mortality and anticipate our eternity.
Throughout the Hebrew Bible, ashes were worn as a sign to the community of mourning and repentance. Today, palm fronds from Palm Sunday worship are often dried and set aside to be burned down to ash on the following year’s Ash Wednesday (or perhaps at a Fat Tuesday party at church the night before—I hope next year we might be able to do that together!). Those ashes are then mixed with a small amount of fresh olive oil. The minister dips their thumb in that ash, traces the sign of the cross on a person’s forehead, and says, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
It is a practice that requires touch and close proximity, which of course we cannot do right now in gathered community. In church denominations around the globe, preparations are underway for Christians to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday within their own households, for the sake of everyone’s safety. We at Esperanza are doing the same.
We will offer two worship services on Ash Wednesday, at 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. Both are live Zoom worship services. (One will be recorded and placed on our website afterwards.) Both services are identical. They are designed for you to place the ashes on each other in your home, or on yourself (if you are a household of one). We will send you the Zoom link closer to the day.
The first service is set intentionally in the early morning for those who would like to receive the ashes before they go to work or other daily activities. For many, wearing a cross of ash on their forehead every year is a witness to their colleagues or others they encounter throughout the day that they are a person of faith. If you have not done this before, you might consider it for this year. The service is designed to last only 30 minutes to help people arrive at work on time.
It will be a service of Holy Communion with Imposition of Ashes. So you’ll need to prepare a few things ahead of time:
1. Bread
The bread can be fancy or plain, from a fresh-baked loaf of bread to a quarter of a saltine cracker.
2. Wine
This can be “regular” wine, non-alcoholic wine, or grape juice.
Note: If you have the bread but not wine, or have the wine but not bread, that’s okay. You will still receive communion fully. The church has historically called this “receiving in one kind.”
3. Ashes
Starting now, you may pick up a small packet of ashes at church, one per household. They are sitting inside the window box outside the church office so that you can come whenever is convenient, whether the office is open or not. Please take only one per household. Don’t worry that it is a small amount of ash—a little goes a very long way!
If you prefer or cannot get to the church campus (maybe you’ll be attending worship from out of town!), determine if you can burn wood down to ashes safely at home. Palm fronds or non-toxic woods can be used. Even all-wood charcoal (with no additives) could work. Remember: Burn nothing that will irritate the sensitive skin of the forehead (no chemicals, charcoal starter, etc.).
If mobility is an issue and you cannot get to church or make your own, please let us know and we’ll see if we can get them to you.
To help the ashes stick, mix them with a very small amount (only a drop or two) of olive oil, or other common vegetable oil you may have in the kitchen. If you use it to put in your food, it should be safe to put on your skin. Use enough oil so it’s not crumbly, but stop before it gets soupy. ***NEVER MIX ASH WITH WATER as that creates lye which will cause a chemical burn.***
If you’d like to see how ashes are prepared, here’s a link to a handy video showing the process: “How to Make Ashes for Ash Wednesday”
If you don’t have ashes in time for the service, please don’t let that get in the way. Attend worship anyway!
I hope you will join us in marking this beginning of our Lenten journey, joined together as the Body of Christ wherever we may be.
God’s peace and grace,
Pastor Annemarie
Photo by Annika Gordon on Upsplash