Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ashes for Wednesday

Ash Wednesday has always been an enigma to me.  Growing up in a conservative, Southern congregation, we never spoke of this day.  I remember seeing it on calendars, yet no one could really tell me what it was exactly about.  It was not until I was in seminary that anyone gave me even a remotely accurate answer. 

I was sitting in a class on preaching 1 and 2 Kings.  I think we were discussing the healing of Naaman in 2 Kings 5, and we were discussing the imagery of washing and healing in the narrative.  We were asked to turn to the person sitting next to us and quickly develop a contemporary image that equated the image of water in this text.  My partner grew up in the Catholic Church and his immediate answer was “ashes.”  The puzzled look on my face said it all; I had no idea what he was talking about.  He explained to me the mysterious day known as Ash Wednesday.  (As a side note, he had grown up in the French Quarter in New Orleans.  Thus, Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday go hand-in-hand.)  When worshippers assembled on Ash Wednesday, they came seeking forgiveness for their sins, much like the ancient Hebrews did during Yom Kippur.  As they received Communion, the presiding priest would also take some ash and make the sign of the cross of each forehead.  It is a reminder that life and death are intertwined.  We cannot have one without the other.

Yet there is something else here.  In her book Speaking of Sin, Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “For those who have been baptized, there is some comfort in knowing that the ash cross goes on top of an earlier cross made from water.  The promise of new life underlies the reminder of death, which is where we find the courage to go on with the Ash Wednesday service” (p. 71).  It is what we also see in Psalm 51:10-12, where the poet writes, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.  Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.”  Whether you “celebrate” Ash Wednesday or not, remember that there is resurrection after the ashes.  Life and death are intertwined.  We cannot have one without the other.   

Saturday, February 2, 2013

"Snow-Day" Sunday

Well, the weather this winter has been interesting.  It was 70 degrees one day and 30 degrees the next.  One day, the tornado sirens were sounding as I drove onto campus at the university that I teach at.  It was snowing the next day.  The winds blew so strong one evening that it knocked trees down, and the next evening was calm and peaceful.  And now there is snow.  Classes at most local schools were either cancelled or put on delay on Friday.  And while it does not happen often, the leaders of my congregation have wisely decided to cancel worship services Sunday.  In essence, we are having a “snow day” this Sunday.

So I guess this means that we can skip on worshipping God when our congregation cancels worship, right?  Of course not. J While we may not be able to gather with our regular church family, we can still worship God.  Here are some options:
  • “Attend worship” via a webcast.  Many larger congregations have developed the option of webcasting their worship services live online.  While I do not recommend it on a regular basis for those who can attend worship, it can certainly provide benefit on an occasional basis.  A couple of good options are Saddleback Church (, North Point Community Church (, and Kentucky Christian University's chapel services (;I recommend the service from January 29)  .
  • Have a family worship service.  Everyone can sing with worship songs on YouTube or iTunes.  Dad can read his favorite Bible passage and discuss why it is important to him.  Mom can serve “bread and juice” for breakfast or lunch as a lesson on Communion.  And the kids can take up a collection for a local charity.  Some resources are Ernest Boyer’s Finding God at Home, J. Bradley Wigger’s The Power of God at Home, and Terry Johnson’s The Family Worship Book.    
  • Spent some time alone with God.  I am a firm believer in Christians maintaining a daily devotional practice.  Whether it is a daily Bible reading and prayer, working through a study plan, or reading a devotional book, our regular practice can be just as meaningful as momentary Sunday worship as gathering with our regular congregation.  You can even have a personal Communion service: prepare a Saltine cracker and a glass of juice, read one of the narratives (Matthew 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-26; Luke 22:14-20), and thank God through prayer for the blessing of Christ’s presence in our lives.

However you choose to spend tomorrow, let us make sure that we continually seek to “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples” (Psalm 96:3)!