Dear friends in Christ,
We are now entering into Lent, the penitential season which prepares us for Easter. If you look on page xiii of the 1962 Book of Common Prayer, you will find a list of “Days of Fasting, Abstinence, and Solemn Prayer.” The first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, is one of only two “major fast” days we observe. Ash Wednesday is this Wednesday, March 1 st.
I commend to you on Ash Wednesday the practice of fasting, abstinence and solemn prayer beginning at sundown on the eve of Ash Wednesday and continuing until sundown the next day. Two opportunities to receive the Imposition of Ashes will be offered that day, at 12:15pm and 6:30pm. These services will be very short in order to make them accessible to all the faithful.
Being marked with ashes is an act of penitence, of acknowledging our fallen nature and seeking God’s help in changing ourselves. Ash is made through the burning of Palm leaves saved from Palm Sunday the year before, an embodiment of how our humanly praises of God in one season can be short-lived and therefore worthless the next. We read scriptures and pray for our own penitence, and at the end of this solemn service parishioners kneel at the altar rail to hear: “Remember, O man, that dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” The sign of the cross is then made in ash on our foreheads. This ashen cross is a sacramental, a sanctifying symbol and reminder of our unworthiness. We carry forth this mark into the world, a silent echo of John’s proclamation to “make straight the way of the Lord!” as we await the costly grace obtained for us in the Paschal mystery.
Observing Ash Wednesday is a fitting start to our Lenten penitential practices. Fasting, abstinence, and solemn prayer empty us and make within us room to be filled, spiritually. Then when we arrive at our Sunday feast days, which are breaks in our Lenten ‘emptying,’ the Eucharist will fill us in a new way. I encourage you to develop your own special devotional practice to observe throughout Lent. An aid to doing so can be obtained from our office, or accessed online here: https://goo.gl/8a5UHZ.
You may want to include in your personal Lenten rule of life participation in one or both of the special devotional opportunities being presented to our parishioners. Cheryl James will be facilitating a “Faith and Film” discussion series on Mondays at 1:30pm throughout Lent, the first of which will feature the documentary “Veil of Tears” about the plight of women in India and the work of the faith-based development agency, Gospel for Asia. I am away early in Lent for the second part of the Interim Ministry Course, so will be offering every Wednesday an online resource for practicing Lectio Divina. Lectio Divina is an ancient method of reflecting on a scriptural passage in an intentional and structured way that instills in the practitioner a type of spiritual sensitivity. I have found Lectio Divina invaluable to my own spiritual life. If you need help accessing these posts which I will make to the St Stephen’s Facebook page, please contact Carly during her regular office hours.
I leave you with this prayer from our BCP Ash Wednesday service:
Lord, for thy tender mercies’
sake, lay not our sins to our charge; But
forgive that is past, and give us grace to amend
our sinful lives; To decline from sin, and incline
to virtue; That we may walk with a perfect heart
before thee, now and evermore.
Peace be with you,