10 ideas for a more meaningful Ash Wednesday
A UMC.org feature by Joe Iovino*
Ash Wednesday is an important day in the church calendar. It marks the beginning of Lent, a season of preparation for the celebration of Easter.
This holy day is not a holiday from work, school, or most other obligations, so if we are not intentional in our observance it is likely to resemble any ordinary Wednesday.
To help us find ways to remember the holy in the midst of our routines—something we should strive for every day—we offer some ideas to consider.
Many congregations offer worship services on Ash Wednesday. In a typical United Methodist service, expect times of prayer, singing, confession and pardon, a sermon, and the imposition of ashes. The somber tone helps us reflect on our own mortality and the need for us to confess our sins.
If your congregation does not offer Ash Wednesday worship, Find-A-Church will help you locate United Methodist churches that do.
On Ash Wednesday, we remember that we are part of the entire human family, making it a great day to serve others. See if you can serve a meal during your lunch hour, or take a personal day to volunteer with a local Habitat for Humanity project.
Your service, however, doesn’t have to be with an organized group. You might instead choose to use your lunch hour to hand out sandwiches and sports drinks to the homeless in your city. You could also mow a neighbor’s lawn, or shovel the snow from their driveway.
We encourage you to give to your congregation, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, and other organizations that serve others. Your generosity can also be creative.
Leave your server an above-and-beyond tip—maybe a 100% gratuity. Buy the coffee of the person behind you in line. Put money in the instrument case of a street musician. Purchase a paper from the homeless woman on the corner. Find ways to bless others with that which God entrusts you.
“Giving something up for Lent” is a common practice for many Christians. Often, we give up a favorite food or try to kick a bad habit during Lent. Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, is when this begins, but don’t confine yourself to food or habits.
Can you abstain from gossip or complaining for Ash Wednesday? What about defensive attitudes, fear, or anxiety? You probably won’t be perfect at this, but being mindful of times when these attitudes begin to take hold of your day can lead you to prayer.
5. Pray your day
Rather than setting aside special time for prayer, pray your day. Pray for the drivers of the vehicles and fellow mass transit passengers with whom you share your commute. Pray as you pass the hospital, police station, and government offices. Lift up the trash collector and the mail carrier. Pray as you write a letter, email, or Facebook post to an old friend. Offer sentence prayers throughout the day thanking God for your coworkers.
6. Make something
Some of us reflect and pray best when our hands our busy, making today a great day to create something. Get back in the workshop and spend time cutting, sanding, and gluing. Sit at a piano and let the music flow. Take out the paints, glue, clay, and other supplies to create a work of art.
As you create, be mindful of our Creator who longs to be in relationship with you.
7. Be still
Others find meaning in stillness. Try a practice like centering prayer by lighting a candle and pausing before the presence of God. Take a yoga class—some churches and spiritual directors offer holy yoga. Enjoy a cup of coffee on your deck. Listen for the crackling wick, the wind, the birds, the voice of God.
8. Clean something
Ash Wednesday is a good day to get a jump on your spring cleaning. Spend an hour with the junk drawer, that cabinet at work, or organizing the files on your hard drive.
As you remove things you no longer need and reorder those you do, be mindful of the ways God “cleans” us. The Bible tells us “As far as east is from west—that’s how far God has removed our sin from us” (Psalm 103:12, CEB). As we get things in order, we remember that Jesus gave his life so that we might be free from our sins and know new life.
9. Burn something
When you finish cleaning, take some of the papers you no longer need to the fireplace, light them, and watch them burn to ashes.
The ashes our pastors smudge on us during Ash Wednesday worship come from the burning of last year’s Palm Sunday palms. They remind us of our mortality and call us to repentance—seeking God’s forgiveness for our sin, both the things we have and have not done.
The ashes you’ll generate in the fireplace are not the same, but can serve as a similar reminder that your sins are forgiven. As the smoke rises up the chimney, know your prayers and life in Christ are rising to God as well.
10. Forgive and seek forgiveness
As we pray for God’s grace, we should also seek forgiveness from those we have wronged. Ash Wednesday is a great time to go to those you have hurt.
It is also a wonderful day to forgive another. Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us” (Matthew 6:12 CEB). Maybe while you are burning those old papers, you might also burn a grudge. If appropriate, let the person know you forgive them. Remember, however, that forgiveness has much more to do about us than the one who offended us.
*Joe Iovino works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. Contact him by email or at 615-312-3733.
This story was first published on February 21, 2017. Photo by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications.