February 18, 2010

Preparation for Ash Wed & Prayer

Last night at First Baptist Austin, we inaugurated the Christian season of Lent with an Ash Wednesday service. I had the opportunity to open the service with these words and prayer:

As we all know, tonight is not our common Wednesday night Midweek Mooring service, but like Advent, Christmas, Pentecost, Lent, Good Friday, and Easter…today is a note worthy day in the Christian calendar: Ash Wednesday. For myself, having grown up outside of the church, spending much of my time as an atheist, and then becoming a Christian in a very fundamental Baptist church, most of these words: Advent, Lent; much less Ash Wed. were and are still somewhat foreign and mysterious to me.

If you’d ask me five years ago, I would have said “I have no idea what Ash wed is about, but its probably heretical.” My reasoning: it’s a Catholic thing. I mean, didn’t the Reformation save us from all this Catholic ritualism, salvation by works stuff.

If you’d ask me about 3 years ago, I still would have said I don’t really know what Ash Wed is, but I would like to know. For what I had learned, is that of all the good things that came out of the Reformation, many good things were lost too. As the saying goes: the baby was tossed with the bath water.

If you’d ask me today, I’d say something like this. I’ve only experienced Ash Wed once, last year at a Baptist Retreat. In the past, for the most part the only preparation I made for Easter was to buy new clothes. In the last few years I’ve taken to this time called Lent to prepare myself for Resurrection. I mean, shouldn’t’ something as awe-inspiring and somewhat terrifying as Resurrection be prepared for.

And we begin this journey of new life by making room, getting rid of distractions and sins and awakening to our own mortality. I’ve learned a lot in my time with you here at First Baptist, but one of the things I’ve seen time after time is how alive some people become when they are close to death. Ash Wed. marks the first day of this season of drawing near to death, giving us permission to grieve our weakness and sin; and instead of buying more clutter for our lives we are invited to toss some of the mess. So you and I are invited tonight to reflect on what keeps us from living close to our mortality, our fragility of life so that we may live every day fully alive as if it’s our last.

You are invited to identify yourself with Christ who was given the marks of suffering in his body, by receiving the sign of mortality on yours in the form of ashes. So that is Ash wed, not some rote ritual to gain God’s favor, but an invitation to God’s faithfulness by physically identifying yourself with his gift.


Faithful, life-giving Creator, there is nothing and no one you have made that you despise.

And though, you call us to life, we close our ears.

You welcome us home, and we desert your hospitality.

You breath on us Spirit, and we prefer the stench of sin.

From your never ending, loving faithfulness, we ask for sorrow for our individual and collective brokenness, isolation, hate, and neglect; to make us new in your mercy; and to bring us to death so we may find life.

We desire and ask these things in the creative energies of your Spirit, the faithful suffering of your Son, and the nurturing guidance of the one God, forever and ever. Amen.

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