I so enjoy the Ash Wednesday service in the Anglican Church, the start of the examination of my own sin, how it relates to what happened to Jesus and his crucifixion, the season of lament. The service is a short one but a very powerful one that causes me to start digging deeply into my life, to rediscover that connection between Christ and why he had to suffer for the sins of the whole world. Until I became an Anglican I did not really understand the need for times of lamenting before the rejoicing over the risen, resurrected Christ. It restores, for me, the real joy of celebration of that resurrection.
Here is a brief excerpt from the Ash Wednesday service in the Anglican Book of Alternative Services, pages 281 and 282:
"Celebrant: Dear friends in Christ,
every year at the time of the Christian Passover
we celebrate our redemption
through the death and resurrection
of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Lent is a time to prepare for this celebration
and to renew our life in the paschal mystery.
We begin this holy season
by remembering our need for repentance,
and for the mercy and forgiveness
proclaimed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
We begin our journey to Easter with the sign of the ashes,
an ancient sign,
speaking of the frailty and uncertainty of human life,
and marking the penitence of the community as a whole.
I invite you therefore, in the name of the Lord,
to observe a holy Lent
by self-examination, penitience, prayer,
fasting, and alms giving,
and by reading and meditating on the word of God."
And, following the confession, after going forward to receive ashes placed on my forehead in the sign of the cross:
"Celebrant: Almighty God,
from the dust of the earth you have created us.
May these ashes be for us a sign
of our mortality and penitence,
and a reminder that only by your gracious gift
are we given eternal life;
through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen"
"Celebrant: Accomplish in us, O God, the work of your salvation,
People: That we may show forth your glory in the world.
Celebrant: By the cross and passion of your Son, our Lord,
People: Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection."
In most of my former church affiliations there was great focus on the resurrected Christ and nothing wrong with that of course, but there was little to zero time spent in lamentation, in focusing in on the details personally of our own sins, and certainly little attention given to the sins of our collective church community. The ashes that were smeared on my forehead on Ash Wednesday reminded me that I too am part of this church community and it is time to examine my own ability to relate to my fellow Christians and repent of words spoken, actions taken or not taken in this past year; to approach God with an attitude of repentance to receive his forgiveness and his strength to act in that forgiveness within my own church community.
I have much to repent of; Easter will be a particularly joyous celebration for me this year. I am grateful that we have a crucifix in our home, a reminder of what Christ suffered for me, for us. I was always taught that crucifixes were not very good and that it was best to have a Christless cross hanging on the walls in celebration of the resurrection. Yes, that is a wonderful thing to represent: Christ is no longer on the cross, he didn't stay there, he was resurrected of course. However, when I see the representation of his suffering while still on the cross it has a far greater impact during this time of lament. On Easter Sunday I will bring out my Christless cross and remember that resurrection and what it is to mean to my life and to the life of my church. But for now I am properly somber in this season of lament, in the refocusing of my thoughts and life on why Jesus had to suffer in order to be resurrected and what that all has to do with my life and church.