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The Meaning of Ashes and Lent

In his book, Celebration of Disciplines, Richard Foster compared spiritual formation to a farmer growing grain. All he can do is provide the right conditions for the growing of grain. He cultivates the ground, he plants the seed, he waters the plants, and then the natural forces of the earth take over and up comes the grain.

Foster writes, “This is the way it is with the Spiritual Disciplines - they are a way of sowing to the Spirit... By themselves, the Spiritual Disciplines can do nothing; they can only get us to the place where something can be done.”

One of the intentional ways that the church promotes spiritual formation is through the Season of Lent. Traditionally, this forty-day period follows Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and the cross. It is also intended to reflect Jesus’ forty-day journey of temptation in the wilderness.

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday (February 26), inviting participants into reflection and sacrifice, and ends with Maundy Thursday (April 9).

Various Christian traditions follow varying levels of participation in this tradition. Some invite participants to give up or abstain from doing something for the forty days, such as eating meat.

While we invite you to engage in the spiritual discipline of fasting as you feel led, we will be following the Lenten season on Sundays through a Lenten focus. Each Sunday, there will be an object on the worship table, representing a vital element of the story of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. Our worship gatherings will be kicked off with a focus reading about the object and a time of prayer.

We will host a brief and meaningful Ash Wednesday service at 12:00 PM on Wednesday, February 26, in the Chapel. Participants are invited to begin the season of Lent by fasting for lunch, meditating and praying, and receiving ashes.

The receiving of ashes is a tradition stretching back to the 11th century and yet finding its roots in the Biblical tradition. Receiving ashes, in both the Old and New Testament, was a worshipful symbol of repentance and obedience. The ash recipients are marked on the forehead or the hand, hearing these words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” or “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”

The ashes used in the service are traditionally the charred palm branches used on Palm Sunday.


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