Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Ash Wednesday

For I eat ashes as my food and mingle my drink with tears ~Psalm 102:9

Every Ash Wednesday I want to write something very profound and reflective. I like to read T.S. Elliot's poem, 'Ash Wednesday,' and I miss attending morning chapel services either at Concordia University, Nebraska or at Los Angeles Lutheran Jr/Sr High.

At Concordia, you almost felt Catholic. You were part of the eons old ritual of this first day of the season of reflection, repentance and sacrifice that is Lent, preparing your mind and heart to receive Christ again on Easter. 

Of course (as I sit here listening to Gregorian chants from the Netherlands on it occurs to me that being so self-indulgently melodramatic about basking in tradition and identification may actually be a little antithetical to what Lent is really all about.

What I loved about our "contemporary" youth-oriented rituals at Lutheran High is how deeply meaningful and practical they were. Ash Wednesday was a powerful object lesson. Many churches will save the palm fronds from the previous year's Palm Sunday services and use them to make the ashes that their pastors use to mark parishioners' heads with the sign of the cross. 

What we did at Lutheran High was more interactive. John Imme, our Spanish teacher and pastor of an interracial church in nearby Lake View Terrace spoke to the students about how sin is anything that impedes or interferes with our relationship with God. Sin can also damage or destroy our relationships with others and that ultimately, whether through guilt, or self-destructive choices, sin erodes our sense of self and as the Bible says, leads to death. 

Then he encouraged everyone to write down those sins which we asked God to help us be freed from. Everyone was to fold these strips of paper tightly, share them with no one else, and put them in an offering plate. Then Stan Dobler and Al Ludtke, the Religion teachers would take the papers outside behind the school and burn them all.

John explained that on Good Friday, Jesus Himself was the ultimate sacrificial burnt offering that paid the price for our sins. That with the resurrection on Easter Sunday our freedom from sin, death, and the Devil was won and that now our sins are as far from us as the East is from the West.

The ashes were then brought back into the chapel. John explained that Jesus gave up His very life for us, in response to that love, many Christians chose to sacrifice something during Lent, as a show of appreciation and as a way to remind themselves of how much He sacrificed for us. Then, they used those ashes, the burnt sins, for marking student's foreheads with the cross.

May the God of Easter, bless you this Ash Wednesday, renew you, and help you grow deeper in your relationship with Him and your service to others. 

Me ka pule,
Pirate Ted

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