Wednesday, February 21, 2007

ash wednesday

I'm really looking forward to tonight. Last year, Oasis Madrid held a special service designed to help us enter into the season of Lent with intentionality. It was so meaningful, we decided to do it again this year.

What's so unique about this service is its "ancient-future" nature. What I mean by that is this: it's a program designed with some ancient Christian practices in mind, but observed in such a way that it makes sense for Christians in the 21st century. In this instance, we take the idea of a more traditional Ash Wednesday observance and modify it slightly.

For example, in more traditional churches there is a mixture of ash prepared ahead of time, which the priest uses in the service later on. When the person comes forward, the priest marks their forehead with the ash, making the sign of the cross.

In our instance, we will show how the "ash" comes about in the first place. (Read below to find out what we do...)

As we start our Ash Wednesday service tonight, I will read the following explanation that describes Lent (the season of 40 days that commences tonight), Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent) and Oasis Madrid's particular observance of Ash Wednesday. If you're curious about all this, read on.

What is Lent?
The early Christians made a habit of observing each year the days of our Lord's passion and resurrection. It became the custom of the Church that before the Easter celebration there should be a forty–day season of spiritual preparation.

During this season converts to the faith were prepared for baptism. It was also a time when persons who had committed serious sins and had separated themselves from the community of faith were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to participation in the life of the Church.

In this way the whole congregation was reminded of the mercy and forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel of Jesus Christ and the need we all have to renew our faith.

What is Ash Wednesday?
Christians gather on this day to mark the beginning of Lent's baptismal preparation for Easter. Traditionally on this day, the people of God receive an ashen cross on their forehead or hand, hear the solemn proclamation to keep a fast in preparation for Easter's feast, and contemplate anew the ongoing meaning of baptismal initiation into the Lord's death and resurrection. While marked with the ashes of human mortality, the church hears God's promise of forgiveness and tastes God's mercy in the bread of life and the cup of salvation. From this solemn liturgy, the church goes forth on its journey to the great baptismal feast of Easter.

How we will observe Ash Wednesday
First, we begin with a declaration about God and his goodness, in word and in song.

Having encountered the holiness of God, we become aware of our sin. It is then that God calls us to confess our sins to him and to each other. This will be signified through writing our sins on a piece of paper. Then, the leader will read aloud all the sins we need to confess before God and each other. This is a bold thing to do, and we are unaccustomed to confessing our sins in this fashion, but the Scriptures tell us clearly, both by example and mandate, to confess our sins publicly. One prominent example of this in the Scriptures (that we will read from together) is David’s confession of his sin when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and then killed her husband Uriah to gain her as his wife. In this instance, David composed a song to confess his sin that was designed for the whole nation of Israel to hear, thus signifying the depth of his sorrow for sin and his firm resolve to repent. By confessing our sins in a “public” way, we follow in David’s holy example.

It is from that perspective that we see the effects of sin on our lives and our world. We become spent, broken, frail, ashen. This will be signified through burning our slips of paper, creating ashes.

From the depths of our brokenness, we cry out to God to forgive, cleanse and heal us. This is signified through a spoken prayer.

Next, we see God’s desire to heal our wounded nature. This is signified through pouring oil onto the ashes.

We then proceed to mark our hands with the cross of Christ. This is done through dipping one finger into the ashes and marking yourself. As we do this, we remember: the ashes signify our sin, the oil signifies God’s healing touch, and the cross signifies Christ’s healing work in our lives as he took upon himself the sin of the whole world. By marking ourselves with an ashen cross, we are reminded of Christ’s healing work.

Next, we proceed to a celebration of Christ’s forgiveness through participating in the Lord’s Supper, the feast that nourishes and strengthens our souls.

If you happen to be in Madrid, why not come join us? We'd love to have you! I, for one, am looking forward to it. And I hope each of you has a meaningful Lenten season. ---Troy

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