by Lorraine Rothenburg, Pastor of Assimilation
“Where were you when….?” This common phrase is often finished by phrases like “. . . JFK was shot”, or if you’re younger, maybe “. . . John Lennon was shot” or “. . . the Twin Towers were struck on 9/11.” There are some significant events in history that serve as markers in time to our memories. One such marker for me would be Ash Wednesday 2004. That was the day the long-awaited “The Passion of the Christ” film was released in movie theaters. I remember that day well. We had our Ash Wednesday service that day, and later went to watch this film, ashes still on our foreheads. As I stood in line, I was struck by how many people around me also had ashes on their foreheads, not just those from our church. I was undone by the reality of the gravity of my sin and the costly and dear gift of my salvation as I watched this dramatic visual account of the last week of the life of Christ presented on the Big Screen. That Ash Wednesday, I had a better understanding of the significance of the day.
You see, Ash Wednesday day wasn’t commemorated with a service in the church in which I grew up. It was something I wasn’t very connected to at all and had only a vague understanding about . I would see people at school or in the community that day with ashes on their forehead and find myself wanting to walk up them with a hanky to wipe the “schmootz” off their face with a bit of a dismissive attitude. But now, I can’t imagine heading into the sacred season before Easter without participating in our Ash Wednesday service.
Ash Wednesday is a day of repentance and it marks the beginning of the 40 day period known as Lent. It is a day on which believers repent for their sins by fasting, praying and asking for God’s forgiveness. The imposition of ashes on the forehead at this service symbolizes our acknowledgment of our sin. Why ashes? Ashes were used in ancient times, according to the Bible, to express mourning. Dusting oneself with ashes was the penitent’s way of expressing sorrow for sins. Today we do that on our foreheads to acknowledge our common need to repent of our sins. It marks the beginning of a season of repentance, reflection, and fasting which prepares us for Christ’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday, through which we attain redemption.
This year, Ash Wednesday falls on March 9th (this coming Wednesday), and we will be commemorating that day with our service at 7 pm that evening. I do hope you’ll make plans to join us as together we remember and enter into the sacred Lenten Season.