Today is Ash Wednesday in the Christian calendar. The beginning of the Season of Lent. Forty days to Easter Sunday – not counting Sundays.
I am glad Ash Wednesday (and Lent) is making a comeback in the Protestant world after being neglected, disabused and condemned by our Protesting and Reforming Foreparents some 500 years ago. I have written many Ash Wednesday reflections, preached a few sermons and conducted numerous Lenten Season Studies. In this thread I am going to do something a bit different than offer up a scripture passage and encourage believers to repent – whatever that may look like.
Instead, three things…
What is the hardest part of preparing for the evening’s Ash Wednesday service as a pastor? Remembering where you stored the few palm fronds you saved from the previous year’s Palm Sunday. Why? The ashes that are placed on one’s forehead on Ash Wednesday are traditionally made from the palms of last year’s Palm Sunday. I remember one cold Ash Wednesday morning outside the office door of the church warming my hands over a little fire of dried palm leaves burning in a coffee can. Add a little olive oil to the crushed ashes created with a mortar and pestle and, ta da, ash soup for application on foreheads.
This Ash Wednesday morning I have no service to prepare for as I am not in the church business at this time. Rather, I will be a participant at a service tonight at St. Peter’s United Church of Christ in Carmel. I find myself remembering the act of the imposition of ashes on countless foreheads. It is a simple ritual. Dip the side of my thumb in a little bowl that contains the ashes. Draw a cross with my thumb on the forehead of the person before me. Speak the words. “Repent and be made whole” or “Remember that you are from dust and to dust you will return.” So many upturned faces. Faces serious. With tears. A bit of a smile. Some fear. Friends. Strangers. It is quite a privilege. To touch a person in a worship setting. Remind her or him that she or he is going to die.
To celebrate Ash Wednesday this year I made Chocolate Chip Muffins early in the morning! For my birthday last week one of my thoughtful and gracious co-workers gave me 750 best muffin recipes by Camilla V. Saulsbury. (He did so because every week for the last few years I have been making and bringing in to work my now famous Blueberry or Banana Nut Muffins.) I have never made Chocolate Chip Muffins because I never really cared for them – preferring instead that those ingredients be delivered to my mouth through a cookie. Now, though, I have an interesting recipe. What better muffin to make for the day that begins the Season of Lent? Give up chocolate!?!