Tonight we had our Ash Wednesday service. I can't remember if we've had one before or not. I don't think so, but it's just as possible that we have and I've forgotten about it. Anyway... I hope it provided a chance for us to interact with God through the senses of sight, sound, smell, touch, and prayer.
If you don't know, Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent. Some believe different things about it, but this is what I told people tonight. Its name comes from the ancient practice of placing ashes on the worshipers forehead as a sign of humility before God. It not only reminds us of the mourning at the death of Jesus, but also to remind us of the consequences of our sin. This is a somber day of reflection on what needs to change in our lives as we learn to be followers of Jesus. Ashes are symbolic of the attitude of reflecting on our own sinfulness and on God's gift of forgiveness which comes through his Son, Jesus Christ.
This is a time of self-examination; a time to ponder the depth of God's love and the lengths to which he has gone to bring his transforming love into the world. And finally, it is a time to ponder what God calls US to do. How we are to live; how we are to treat the earth, ourselves, and our neighbors.
We had four "meditation stations" set up as a way of opening ourselves to God's presence and allowing him to speak to us.
The first station was a table with sheets of paper containing the Scripture readings for the night (Joel 2:1-2; 12-17; Psalm 51; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; and Matthew 6:1-6; 16-21). People could take one and have a seat as they read over them to themselves. There were also candles on the table which you were welcome to light as a sign of your openness to God.
At another station was a table set up for communion. People were encouraged to sit for a time and examine the bread and the cup. Then they were free to take communion by breaking off a piece of bread and dipping it in the cup.
In one of the side rooms in the back was a station for artistic expression. There were paper and pencils for those who wished to draw, or write - either poetry, or writing out what they were feeling, or whatever. It's just another way of processing what God may be speaking to us.
I was in the other side room, and people were welcome to come in if they wanted me to pray for them. I was going to offer to place ashes on their forehead, but I couldn't find any, and my homemade batch didn't turn out. So I just prayed. If I had administered ashes I probably would have said something like, "With these ashes may you repent and hear the good news of God's love for you"... and then pray for the person.
There was soft instrumental music playing the whole time, as well as incense burning. We started at 7 pm by gathering in the hallway. I explained things to everyone, then we entered the sanctuary together. We just used the lights over the altar, and I had a lamp on the left side, in the back, so people could read Scripture. Otherwise it was all candlelight (the window candles, at the Scripture table, the communion table, on the old piano, and in the two rooms in the back). At 7:55 I stopped the music and we gathered together, and a few shared their thoughts; then we gathered in a circle and I dismissed us in prayer. There were 13 of us - which was more than I anticipated. Although 2 had to leave because it was a mother and young child, and the child had lots of energy. I should have had someone for the nursery, but didn't even think about it. I called them right afterward and they were okay with it.
I always seem to put way too much time and energy into these kinds of services - and I did for this one too. But I really like doing things like this. I'm not sure what everyone thought, but it seemed to go over well for most people. I was pleased.