Once again, Restoration Youth lead our annual Ash Wednesday service.
It was actually one of the better attended “special services” we’ve had in a while. Wednesday evening is youth night, so typically if a special event falls on that day, we give it to the youth to lead us. I always love the way that they frame things and bring a fresh take on an ancient church tradition.
I’m also thankful to have to been able to worship from among the body for a change, rather than lead it.
Our Youth Pastor Austin’s message was a call to increase our capacity for the Lord’s presence as we walk through the Lenten season and in anticipation of the coming Resurrection Sunday. He talked about how many people are naturally prepared to take away or abstain from certain pleasures during Lent, but challenged the idea, saying we should let go and adding a more intentional pursuit of Christ by Word, Worship and Witness.
As a symbol of this declaration of taking away something that distracts from daily worship and adding on a practice that brings us closer to Christ, we place a mark of the cross (+) on the forehead.
I heard from someone who attended last night’s service, “I like how (Austin) touched on preparing our hearts. Sometimes I forget to do that daily, so it was a good reminder.” And I replied, “Yes! Ash Wednesday like putting a sticky note on forehead… made of ashes… which is kind of weird.”
Even within the Restoration community, there is a diversity of church backgrounds and therefore some questions about our affirmation of the church seasons of Lent and Advent. Ash Wednesday brought about a number of great questions and some insecurity from among our friends.
“Ash Wednesday? Isn’t that a Catholic thing?”
“I don’t know anything about it, so I’m probably not going to go.”
“It’s not in the Bible, so why are we doing it?
As many friends as we have who have questions, Restoration also has among us worshippers for whom church tradition is an important part of their rhythm of worship. For them, the seasons of Lent and Advent, as well as other extra aspects of church life and worship are vital in maintaining an appreciation for the major events of the Christian Story, including the coming of Christ and the celebration of the Lord’s resurrection.
What I love about our church is its diversity on many levels.
So, if Lent or Ash Wednesday aren’t in the Bible, then why should they belong in the church? The history of these traditions goes back to just a few generations after Christ. They were adopted as a practise of remembering and focusing on the core message of the Christian story—remember, we didn’t have accessible Bibles or public worship space back then! These seasonal rhythms were intended to bring the Christian community together.
Consider many of the things we do in church life: buying or renting facilities, passing out bulletins on Sunday and potlucks (love those!), there are many different expressions of church life and worship that aren’t explicit in scripture. (And some that are listed that most of us just whistle and don’t think much about… When’s the last time you laid on someone at church a smoochy holy kiss?)
Restoration sees these things, that are not in scripture, as Preferences. And for us, our Preferences are defined by our mission, which is to seek deepening friendships and find our place together in God’s unfolding Story. Friends take time to understand and respect our heritages and traditions. And friends are free to respectfully say, “You know, that’s not for me,” without hurting anyone’s feelings.
I remember a while ago being invited to a friend’s house for a barbeque (BBQ?). He’s from South America, but has lived here for many years. He poured me a sweet nectary drink that was something from his homeland. It was surprising at first then, I kinda liked it. Later though, he pulled out a plate of blackened chicken hearts. Yep… little hearts all crisped right up! At first, I was like, “No, thanks!” And in my mind thinking, “What kind of foulness is this?” (I thoughts are often puns.) But out of love for my friend and respect for his heritage, I tried one! …Even dipped it into the special sauce. And you know what—it was good! Now, whenever I go over to his place for a grill-out, I expect to see me some chicken hearts! And I think we’re more connected as friends because of it.
Lent and Ash Wednesday aren’t just “catholic” thing. But remember that the word “Catholic” means “the whole (church).” The word was adopted in the title of the Roman buy viagra fedex Catholic Church, but you can see be adding the “Roman” it’s conditions to no longer mean “all Christians everywhere.” It means that particular institution. Long before there was a “(Roman) catholic” church (and long after), there will be the “Catholic” church of faith in the historic, orthodox, He-died-for-our-sins-and-was-raised-on-the-third-day-to-the-glory-of-God people of Christ.
To us belongs the books and the history of the faith and it for us to continue being faithful in a way that connects us together with them and those whom we are trying to reach.
Church seasons and Ash Wednesday as traditions do belong to the whole, catholic church. Meaning we are free to recognize them or not. A worshipper shouldn’t be made to feel lesser or more for having taken part in any of it.
What I like about how Restoration did Ash Wednesday these past few years is that it was a function of our Youth Ministry. I heard a message of making space for Christ by abstaining and was physically marked in unity with our students as among those who “choose to follow Christ with a special intention” this season before we celebrate the resurrection (Which we do every week, but especially at Easter).
And I looked around the room as we worshipped and I saw such diversity of age and backgrounds. It was exciting. It was like a picture of the whole “Catholic” church.
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. [Colossians 2:16-17]