Sunday, March 2, 2014

FAQ for Ash Wednesday

This year for Ash Wednesday, I will be on the patio of the local Starbucks offering communion, prayer, and the institution of ashes for locals.  I thought a bit of information might be good to have handy and put this together.  It's still in the editing stage, so if you have input, please comment!

What is Lent?

Lent is the period of 40 days (not counting Sundays) that precedes the celebration of Easter. It is often considered a time of preparation and prayer to be receptive to the gift of eternal life that comes through Jesus Christ.

 What is Ash Wednesday?

 Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent. This year it falls on March 5th.  Ash Wednesday is marked by services of prayer, repentance, confession, communion, and the imposition of ashes (the sign of the cross made in ashes on the forehead).

Why do people wear ashes?

 Ashes are meant to be a reminder of our mortality and of our sinfulness.  In Genesis, after Adam and Eve sin, God tells them, “from dust you have come and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19).  This passage reminds us that we are mortal and will all eventually die.  Additionally, the sign of the cross made in ashes is a reminder of our need for repentance (turning away from our sin).

Why do some churches do this and others don’t?

 In the scriptures, wearing ashes is a sign of mourning.  There is no specific scripture that tells us to wear ashes to prepare for Easter.  Over the years, the Church has created a variety of rituals that remind us of our relationship with God and help make our faith become more tangible.  The practice of wearing ashes on Ash Wednesday is one of those practices. So, some churches have adopted this ritual as part of their custom, other churches have not.  Wearing ashes does not make your more Christian or more faithful.  It is an act that invites us to prayerful repentance and should simply be regarded as a means of drawing into conversation with God. 

If someone asks me about it, what should I say?

 You can give whatever explanation you are comfortable with. Some simple answers include:

·         The ashes remind me that I am mortal.

·         The ashes remind me that I am sinful.

·         The ashes invite us to repentance.

·         The ashes remind me that from dust I have come and to dust I shall return.

·         The ashes invite me to turn my heart to God in the season of Lent.

What is fasting and why do people do it?

Fasting is traditionally thought of as abstaining from food for a period of time (commonly 24 hours, or missing 2 or 3 meals).  In Lent, Christians often fast from a particular food item (like chocolate, ice cream, or meat).  There is a strong scriptural foundation for fasting.  Fasting from food reminds us that we are not sustained by food alone (Deuteronomy).  It also reminds us of people around the world who daily struggle to have enough food.  If you have physical limitations (like diabetes) it is best to talk with a doctor before participating in an extended fast.  Though fasting is commonly related to food, we can fast from most anything. Some people fast from TV, from Facebook, from unnecessary spending, from self-deprecation, among other activities.  Fasting in this way draws us into greater consciousness about how we spend our time, money, and energy. 

How else do people prepare for Easter?

There are a lot of ways to utilize Lent as a season of preparation for Easter.  Fasting is a common way.  Other people choose to add a devotional practice to their lives.  Some might add a daily prayer time. Others might read a regular devotional. Some churches offer special studies and classes in Lent that you can take advantage of.  Some people might be intentional about ministering to someone during Lent. You could volunteer at a shelter, take a meal to a family that is struggling, offer to give respite time to a caregiver, or donate items to a local clothes closet.  Other people make a special offering during Lent sacrificing an amount of money to share with someone in need.  During the last week of Lent, known as Holy Week, many churches will have additional worship services to mark the last days before Jesus’ crucifixion. You could attend a Maundy Thursday service, a Seder dinner, the Stations of the Cross, or a Good Friday service.

 What is communion?

 Communion is a holy meal of bread and wine (or juice) that is shared within the Christian community. The tradition is based in the Jewish tradition of Passover, which Jesus shared with his 12 disciples the night before he was crucified.  The bread in the Jewish tradition represented the sacrificial lamb.  At dinner with his disciples, Jesus took the bread, gave thanks to God, and shared it with his disciples saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Take and eat and do this in remembrance of me.”  In essence, Jesus took the old tradition of the Passover sacrificial lamb and gave it new meaning saying “I am the sacrificial lamb.” That means his sacrifice is the one that forgives our sins and sets us right with God.  At the end of the Passover meal, there is a cup of wine that is called the cup of Elijah. It is understood as a cup of hope and promise that God will come again to save the people.  Jesus took that cup at the end of the meal and said, “This is my blood which is poured out for you. It is the cup of the new covenant. Take and drink and do this in remembrance of me.” Again Jesus took an old tradition and put new meaning on it teaching the disciples that his blood is the blood of the sacrificial lamb and that through him a new covenant is made to save and forgive the people.  Christians have continued this tradition of sharing in the bread and wine (some traditions, including ours use juice instead of wine so that everyone can participate in communion) as a reminder of what Jesus does for us so that we might be forgiven and saved.

How can I be forgiven?

God is the one who forgives us of our sins.  To be forgiven you simply need to recognize your sins (the things/actions/habits in your life that block, damage, or impair your relationship with God and with others) and ask God for forgiveness.  As Christians, we believe that forgiveness is freely given to all persons who ask because of the perfect sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf. 

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