Lent, Ash Wednesday, and All Saints
Next week (Wed. March 9) All Saints will host its first Ash Wednesday service (actually we will offer two services – one at noon at Red River Church and one at 5:30 PM at St. Gabriel’s.) Why are we doing this? I assure you it’s not just to add another activity to our church’s life in a season that is already very full. These services are also not an attempt to do something spiritually hip or provocative. We are simply seeking to have the life of Christ more fully formed within us through our observance of Ash Wednesday.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians saying, “One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:13) What is the goal of which Paul speaks? What is the prize? Knowing Jesus and “the power of his resurrection.” That’s one way of stating the goal that resides behind everything we do at All Saints. Jesus stated the same goal this way: “Make disciples.”
The question then becomes How?
How do people who don’t know Jesus come to know Him? How do those who know Him already come to know Him more fully? How are disciples of Jesus made?
The Bible and the Reformed tradition answer these questions emphatically: by grace through faith. “This is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph 2:8-9)
Are you confused now? If you are reading closely, you should be … at least a little. Paul speaks of doing “one thing” as a Christian – “straining forward” and “pressing on” to know Jesus. But then elsewhere he says our relationship to God – in and through Christ – is not of our “own doing,” but rather a gift from God. Come on, Paul! What are we to do? How do we make disciples?
We unfold the gift. By grace through faith we participate in that which God is doing. We make disciples by joining God in his making of disciples. All Saint’s Ash Wednesday services are attempts to do just that – to unfold the gift of Jesus’ life for his church and make disciples.
Is it a good, wise, and biblical way to unfold the gift? Yes, the staff and session believe so, otherwise we wouldn’t offer the services and encourage you to come. Is it the only way? No. There are as many other ways to administer God’s grace through the Word and Sacraments as there are Christian denominations. Is following the church calendar, observing Lent, and participating in an Ash Wednesday service a necessary practice to mature as a follower of Christ? Absolutely not.
There are many things we do at All Saints that we don’t have to do. We don’t have to serve communion weekly, worship antiphonally, wear robes as pastors, pass the peace of Christ, lift our hands for the benediction, lead musically with a guitar, meet in a gym with a Saber-tooth tiger on the floor, or eat doughnuts before the service. We don’t have to do these things. But we can do these things. And we want to do these things, because they help us as a particular body of Christ’s church to “strain forward” and “press on” to know Jesus and the power of his resurrection. So we do these things. This is how we unfold the gift.
In the coming days on our blog, we hope to offer some thoughts on how observing Lent and participating in an Ash Wednesday service fits into All Saint’s way of worship and discipleship. Until then here is an audio recording of author and professor Lauren Winter that I hope stimulates this conversation.