When I saw them standing upfront in their robes, placing the sign of the cross with ashes upon the foreheads of those kneeling before them, I was transported back thirty-five years to my last Ash Wednesday service as a practicing Catholic. Evangelicals aren’t known for celebrating the season of Lent, yet in recent years there has been an increase in Lenten practices. There seems to be a few reasons for this, but many people attest to finding the need for some tradition in a country that is global, instant, and quickly losing touch with the past.
Lent is meant to mirror the season of Passover and the 40 days are representative of the time that Jesus spent in the Wilderness, and Moses in the desert. It expands 46 days with Sundays padded in as feast days, when individuals can rest from their weekly fast.
At this past Wednesday’s service I was accompanied by Dave, who having been raised in a Baptist home had never experienced an Ash Wednesday service. The service we attended was a uniting of the local Ecumenical clergy, as well as my own faith tradition and some other “evangelicals” all part of this pastors group I have embraced.
Some noted theologians are against the idea of evangelicals embracing aspects of Catholicism, stating that it is a smorgasbord of pick and choose liberality, i.e. celebrate Lent, throw out infant baptism, celebrate Ash Wednesday, throw out transubstantiation. With a critical eye, I can understand this kind of thinking and yet, I believe this is more as a point of commonality rather than opposition. I believe this can enhance the evangelicals thinking about what they are picking and choosing and open up the possibilities of different doctrines as just that – doctrines – not the identifying basis for a fellowship under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
For David, his first Ash Wednesday was both “educational” and put him in touch with “church history.” He felt connected to the Universal Church in knowing that roughly a minimum of 1.5 billion worldwide would also take the sign of the cross on their foreheads to be reminded that it is from dust we have come, and to dust we will return. As for me, I was put back in touch with the God of my youth, who was not so different from the God I now worship – except now I have a richness of history and a deeper relationship based on knowledge and understanding that was lacking in my past.
I for one am very glad that I am being reunited with a theological, liturgical, and historical depth to my Christian faith in unity with others who are revering Jesus as Lord of Lord and King of Kings.
This seems like another opportunity to remember the words of Christ in Mark 9:39-41,
“But Jesus said, “Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is for us. “For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward.”
They will know us by our love. David and I are both looking forward to this Wednesday’s Lenten service with anticipation.