Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday: Ashes, Giving Up and Hope

I love Lent.  I love the solemn Ash Wednesday service, the ashes on my forehead, and now that I am a pastor, placing ashes on the foreheads of my congregation.  There's something about marking an ash cross on a woman, saying "Remember you are dust, to dust you shall return" and then making the same mark saying the same words to the infant tenderly cradled in her arms.  It's shocking and scandalous and altogether true.

I love the Lenten mid-week services.  I love the fellowship of the soup suppers, or as my congregation is doing "lunch after." (In this part of South Dakota, lunch is not a specific meal, but any meal at any time other than breakfast, noon - which is dinner -  or supper, and can consist of desserts only, sandwiches and bars, or a full meal.)  I love the flexibility of Wednesday Lent worship.  There's no lectionary - so what shall we do this year?  Focus on the Lord's Prayer?  Book Study?  Dramatizations of the Jesus' Passion?  Dig deeper into ways of discipleship?  There's room for creativity in those Lent services.  

This year, I'm participating in a round-robin with 2 other pastors in the area.  We're using a purchased program - I think the idea is that having everything prepared for you will save time, but I'm finding I have to re-write the bulletins and edit the dramatic monologues for length.  So I'm not sure it's really saving much time.  But the dramatic monologues will give me a chance to stretch my theatre-wings, and hopefully by hearing the voices of Jesus' accusers (it's called "The Trial of Jesus, and we get to hear from Satan, Annas, Herod, Caiaphas and the like) it will stretch the imaginations of my congregation and challenge us to see those places where we also 'accuse.'

We're also participating in a synod-wide book study on Max Lucado's Fearless.  Again, I am finding that I want to re-write some of the 'canned' discussion guide.  The first study starts today and I am looking forward to this Lenten journey through the valley of the shadow as we name our fears, and more importantly, discover those mountaintop-Transfiguration moments that we cling to in the valley.

I almost forgot to schedule a personal Lenten study for myself and then, on RevGalsBlogPals, there was a link to a 40-day study guide for Lauren Winner's new book, "Still, notes on a mid-faith crisis."  I just got the book (thanks Lauren!)  and hadn't even been able to crack the cover.  I just did the first study this morning - I've only read the preface (and preface ii) but I want to do this book with my congregation too!  I'm looking forward to some great Lenten reflections on God's presence in the midst of God's absence. 

Yes, Lent is a wonderful season - study and growth, contemplation and busyness, solitude and fellowship, penitential and hopeful.  After, all the solemn Ash Wednesday, the thoughtful Lenten journey may lead us to the cross, but also lead to the empty tomb.

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