What Is Ash Wednesday Anyway?
This Wednesday, February 10th, is Ash Wednesday this year. Ash Wednesday is 40 days before Easter Sunday - not including Sundays - and marks the beginning of the season of Lent. Lent, of course, is known as that time when we are supposed to give something up. Many people decide to give up eating chocolate or desserts, to cut out caffeine, to stop watching TV, or to refrain from logging onto Facebook. All of these are little ways of giving up something that we normally enjoy without a second thought. So what's the point of this?
Historically, the season of Lent was meant to be a period of preparation as potential new members awaited their opportunity to be baptized and join the family of the church at Easter. The forty days of Lent recalled Jesus' forty days in the wilderness before he began his ministry, the forty years the Israelites spent wandering the desert between their escape from Egypt and their entering the promised land, and the forty days of the flood in the time of Noah. During this final time before taking the baptismal vows, the new converts spent extra time praying, studying, and fasting. In time, those who were already members of the church began to join with those who were preparing in their dedication to these disciplines, and it became a season of repentance and renewal for the whole church. It is this practice of fasting that lies at the root of our tradition of giving something up for Lent. Giving something up is simply a discipline to help remind us of the vows we've taken to follow Jesus and obey God.
(On a side note: The Sundays between Ash Wednesday and Easter are not included in the forty days of Lent. While Lent is somber time, each Sunday is considered a celebration and remembrance of the resurrection of Easter. Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras in French) is the last day before the beginning of Lent and became a festival to use up all of the rich foods (eggs, butter, sugars) that were given up during the Lenten fast and might otherwise spoil before Easter - thus the association of pancakes which use these ingredients as a typical Shrove Tuesday food.)
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent and is a day in which we worship in a unique way. During our worship, we respond to the call to repentance and the invitation to focus on spiritual disciplines by marking a cross with ashes on our foreheads. This cross reminds us of whose we are and who we have committed to follow. The use of ashes to make the cross echoes the "ashes to ashes" line that we hear at funerals and is a reminder of where we come from and where we go. These ashes are made from the palm branches that we used in our celebration of Palm Sunday (a week before Easter) the year before. This cycle from celebration to repentance and back to a new celebration in a few weeks symbolizes the way we live and grow in faith - commitment, failure, repentance, forgiveness, stronger recommitment...
What will you give up this Lent? What good thing might you take on in its place?
I hope to see you at our Ash Wednesday service this week, February 10th at 7 pm, as a part of our Wednesday at the Port. Adults and children alike are encouraged to participate.
Blessings on the journey, Jim
Wilderness: Led by the Spirit
As we begin the forty days of Lent with Ash Wednesday, we are invited into a season of reflection on our lives and dedication to spiritual growth. We start this Sunday with the story of Jesus' forty-day journey into the wilderness where he faces tests and temptations in preparation for his ministry and the eventual Holy Week story of crucifixion, death, and resurrection that culminates in Easter. As we journey through Lent and prepare ourselves for the joy of Easter's good news, we will look at another journey through the wilderness recorded in Scripture. Elijah wandered into the wilderness to escape those who sought his life and wound up journeying through a spiritual wilderness - a place of tests, trials, and despair in preparation for something greater - as well. Join us this Sunday in worship as we reflect on the beginning of Elijah's journey as he is "Led by the Spirit" into the wilderness of life!
Forgotten Folks of Faith: The Secretary
This past Sunday we finished up our most recent worship series with one more of the Forgotten Folks of Faith!
Last Sunday's Sermon Snippet:
The Secretary (Romans 16:1-23)
The last couple of decades has seen the rise of email, text messaging, and all sorts of social media as primary modes of communication over great distances and to vast audiences. But in the world of Paul - the apostle responsible for the explosive growth of the early church in Asia Minor and Greece - two thousand years ago, he had one tool for communicating with and managing the congregations he worked with once he moved on to a new town to start a new church - letters! Just as we learned in grade school, Paul's letters to his churches were written in a certain pattern: an extended greeting to say "Dear Church in...", then telling why he was writing, solving the issues he knew of in that church, giving a few more instructions, and then closing with greetings and blessings - essentially "Sincerely, Paul." But Paul did not write down the majority of the letters himself. He would dictate the letters to a secretary and then write the last few words himself as a sort of signature to confirm it was from him. In the letter to the Galatians, Paul even comments on how large his own handwriting is, perhaps indicating a reason why he would use a trusted secretary to write down these important words. In the letter to the Romans, we learn the name of the secretary who wrote down this particular letter - Tertius! We learn nothing else about him except that he as the scribe for the letter also says hello to the church in Rome. If not for this small postscript in the middle of a long letter, we would never have even known he existed! And yet folks like Tertius - the dedicated, trusted workers - are the ones who have done so much for God's work in the world. They may never get the recognition, fame, or honor of those who stand up in front of huge crowds to proclaim the word, but the jobs they do are no less important and God honors their service no less. While most of us will one day be forgotten by history, we are not forgotten by God if we are simply faithful to what God is calling us to do. God does not care about our fame but our faithfulness. May we all be remembered by God for our faithfulness as we join the honored crowd of Forgotten Folks of Faith!
Growing Spiritually in Lent
The season of Lent is a 40-day period of time to spend intentionally growing in faith. While many folks will give up something like chocolate, there are any number of ways to commit to spiritual growth. Check out 10 Tips for a More Meaningful Lent for more ideas of things you can do this Lent!
Living in Community
This Week at Port Church
Wednesday, February 10
9:30 am - 2:00 pm - Office Hours
6:00 pm - Wednesday at the Port
7:00 pm - Ash Wednesday Service
Thursday, February 11
9:30 am - 12:00 noon - Office Hours
Sunday, February 14
9:30 am - Worship Service
"Wilderness: Led by the Spirit"
11:00 am - Sunday School
News and Updates
Find out what is going on at Port Republic UMC this week and in weeks to come!