Two years ago, leaders at Redemption Arcadia held an Ash Wednesday service. This led some in our congregation to ask many questions like “Why don’t we have an Ash Wednesday Service?” or “Isn’t that just a Catholic thing?” or “Is this something that we have to do as Christians?” (quick answer…NO). In response, I decided to write briefly about Ash Wednesday and provide a bit of background.
Death is inevitable. This is a truth that we all know, but it’s not always on our minds until something happens. We lose a family member or close friend, then we are confronted with death’s reality. I lost my cousin in 2015, and it shook me to my core. I was once again reminded that “you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19). It may sound morbid, but it is the reality and destiny of us all. However, the gospel of Jesus Christ reminds us that death is not a period; it’s more like a comma—with something else is to follow. The gospel promises hope, transformation, grace, new life, and restoration, while at the same time confronting the reality of sin, evil, death, and Satan. Ash Wednesday is a reminder that sin causes death, and we all need a Savior to forgive and redeem us. God has given us a Savior in Jesus Christ, and we know it was through his death and resurrection that forgiveness and redemption is made possible for all who believe in him.
Now I want to be very clear. No practice—not Lent, Ash Wednesday or any other religious activity—saves us. It is only by grace working through faith that we are redeemed (Eph. 2:8-9). However, there are practices or habits that Christians participate in that help them remember the grace of God. Some of those practices are prayer, reading of scripture, gathering as the Church, confession, and communion, as well as the seasons of Easter, Advent, Lent, etc.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten season. Traditionally, churches have a short morning service of singing and Scripture reading. The service is concluded with participants receiving ashes on their foreheads as a symbol of repentance.
We can expect that there will be at three ways that people in our church will respond to an Ash Wednesday service:
1. “This reminds me of growing up in my Catholic, Presbyterian, Lutheran, etc. church. I am glad that we are doing this.”
2. “I think I might attend the service, but I don’t know enough about Ash Wednesday to put ashes on my forehead. That sounds weird.”
This response is just fine; this not a salvific issue, nor is it prescribed in Scripture (much like celebrating Christmas or Easter).
3. “We are not Catholic…so why does this matter to us?”
This was my position for years, and I totally understand. Not all Christians, and not even all the elders at Redemption, observe Ash Wednesday. This is an “open-handed” practice (meaning we’re all free to disagree, but we shouldn’t be divisive in our opinions about it). To address these questions and others that may come up, I suggest reading this article, which should be helpful for evangelical Protestants like you and me. As with observing the Lenten season, we long to join the saints, both presently around the world and who have returned home centuries before us, to remember our temporal state apart from Christ, prepare to meditate on his death and resurrection, and look forward to the day he returns to finish making all things new—a day when death will be no more.
If you find that an Ash Wednesday service is something that you would like to participate in, please join us March 1st at 6:30 AM at Tempe Beach Park for a 30 minute service.
Event info HERE