For those who don’t want ashes placed on their foreheads in the form of a cross, Nick Rosas will offer a blessing during the Ash Wednesday service today at Oak Harbor (Wash.) Christian Reformed Church.
“Ash Wednesday is a good opportunity to bless people and enable them to embody the priestly vocation for others,” said Rosas, pastor of a church that has been holding an Ash Wednesday service – marking the beginning of Lent – intermittently for some 60 years.
Lent, he added, is a significant time of reflection, prayer, self-denial, and preparation for Good Friday and for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection on Easter morning. As a result, it can be a crucial time of using various faith practices to commemorate the season.
“We would like to see people get more deeply into Scripture during Lent,” said Rosas. “We would like to see them deny themselves and pick up their crosses and yet also be conduits for God’s blessing.”
Across the CRC in the U.S. and Canada, there will be congregations handing out ashes – a reminder of our own mortality and need for repentance – and giving blessings in services today.
“Lent is a sacramental time when we look into ways of putting our faith into life,” said Rosas.
CRCNA offices and agencies have developed and offer a wide range of worship resources to help congregations and individuals be more faithful and follow the Lord during the solemn, 40-day season of Lent.
And today a variety of congregations will focus on what is formally known as the Day of Ashes, which traces its history back to the Middle Ages.
“We will hold a service that will open with prayer and the reading of a psalm and a sermon,” said Audrey Edewaard, pastor of worship arts at Third CRC in Kalamazoo, Mich.
“I believe Lent is important because it is a season of disorientation in which we recall our humanness and our sinfulness and our need for God’s grace, whether we give something up for Lent, decide to do something else, or simply take time to reflect,” said Edewaard.
Ash Wednesday reminds us that God created us out of dust and that one day we will return to dust, she added. But the ashes represent hope; they are a sign pointing to what God can do with us.
“I really appreciate Ash Wednesday,” she said. “We interrupt our schedules in the middle of the week to take the ashes” and to be reminded of and to renew our connection with God.
Monroe Community Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., will be handing out ashes today after a period of not distributing them, said Anthony Vander Schaaf, the church’s new worship leader.
Besides thumbing ashes on foreheads, one of the things they will focus on is Psalm 42, which is about “the ache of living the human reality, the hurts, the ups and downs, the hardships,” said Vander Schaaf.
The psalm is especially appropriate for the start of Lent, he said, “because it teaches us we can bring all of our pain and trouble and pray boldly to God.”
Psalm 42:5-6 reads, for example, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”
Vander Schaaf said, “We hope for people to pay more attention and lean more into prayer, especially if things are going rough for you.”
Marking Ash Wednesday is also crucial at Willoughby Christian Reformed Church in Langley, B.C. They hold a service that invites people to walk spiritually on the path leading to Calvary and, after that, to Easter Sunday, said Jenna Fabiano, worship director at the church.
“Lent for us is the season in the church calendar where we ‘journey’ toward Christ’s crucifixion by focusing on our great need for salvation through confession and repentance,” she said.
“Ash Wednesday is a service that orients us in this direction. It is a very toned-down service with lots of silence, Scripture readings, songs, and reminders of our mortality and great need for forgiveness.”
Together in Ministry study
During Lent, Rev. Elaine May, a CRC pastor, and Rev. Liz Testa from the Reformed Church in America will facilitate a series of live Bible-study discussions titled “Building God’s Church Together,” with special guests joining each week.
Beginning March 2, the series will draw from Isaiah 43:19, Joel 2:28-29, and Matthew 9:37-38, along with a recent book by Rob Dixon titled, Together in Ministry. Dixon’s book offers a prophetic roadmap for individuals and communities as they seek to develop flourishing ministry partnerships for women and men.
The online, self-guided Bible-study sessions explore God’s biblical vision for men and women working together in the church. The seven asynchronous sessions encourage participants to journey toward healthy, Christ-centered partnership between men and women in both ministry and everyday life. Click here to enroll for this online Bible-study course. (Use discount code BGCT5off and get $5 off the $20 price of the study.)
After enrolling, participants will receive a Zoom link to register for free weekly virtual discussion groups that will go deeper into the content with like-minded leaders. The series will take place on five consecutive Wednesdays:
- Mar 9, 2022, 1 p.m. (EST)
- Mar 16, 2022, 1 p.m. (EST)
- Mar 23, 2022, 1 p.m. (EST)
- Mar 30, 2022, 1 p.m. (EST)
- Apr 6, 2022, 1 p.m. (EST)
Ideas from Worship Ministries
Worship Ministries recently hosted two roundtable conversations with worship planners and worship leaders to do some collective brainstorming for Lent. Here are some ideas from those meetings:
- Consider your livestream camera view when planning visuals this year. Many of us didn't have to consider this last year because we were completely remote or with small groups only. When planning what to do with your space, take into consideration what will be seen by worshipers at home and worshipers in the sanctuary.
- First Cutlerville (Mich.) CRC did something interesting during Advent that could easily carry over into Lent. They built shelves of varying heights and had an object lesson for each week that got placed on the shelf. This could be part of a children's message, the sermon, or even just something to hold the series/weeks together.
- Do something with mirrors. One year, Washington, D.C., CRC wrote “Search me, O God” on a full-length mirror that hung in the sanctuary for the season, encouraging people to walk up to the mirror and use the reflection time to pray.
- Invite artists of all ages to contribute something to hang in an installation. Choose a general topic that fits with your theme and solicit participation from everyone. People could bring art in any media and hang it as part of a growing installation for the season.
- Do something with rocks. You can paint them; you can use them to build something.
- Find a song that you can sing in full or in part each week.
- Use the Psalms as prayers of confession. Or keep the confession part of the service consistent each week.
- Incorporate the Ten Commandments into worship each week, but do something new and interesting with it to add depth and perspective. Here is a google doc with several different intergenerational ideas for incorporating the Ten Commandments into worship. The document contains five suggestions, but the possibilities are endless.
- Lent candles: Many congregations are used to lighting Advent candles; try lighting candles to mark each week of Lent also. In place of an Advent wreath, use branches/sticks; candles could be put in hurricane glasses and surrounded with nails; a wreath could also be fashioned with fabrics of purple and black. Light a candle each week at the start of the service or as part of the confession/assurance part of the service. Use these same candles and extinguish them in order on Good Friday.
- Baptismal remembrance: Since Lent was often preparatory for baptism, consider doing a baptismal remembrance each week either to start the service or as an assurance of pardon. Ask people to bring in different water pitchers from home and use something different each week. Picture someone's fancy heirloom water pitcher one week, a child's tea set pitcher the next, pottery, plastic, etc.
Lenten gift bags
Faith Formation Ministries regional catalyzer Laura Keeley shares this idea to help children understand both the length and meaning of this season.
When her congregation decided to make a Lenten devotional book available for adults to use at home, Keeley wanted to find a way for families to engage with the resource. The result was a creative and simple Lent in a Bag concept, based loosely on an idea from Building Faith, a ministry of Virginia Theological Seminary.
Keeley gave each family in her church a Lenten gift bag that included a storybook, the devotional guide, and supplies to make a rock path that would lead all the way to Easter.
The rock paths could be created on a piece of purple fabric (also included in the bag) and could be assembled in whatever way each family chose—straight, curved, or zig-zag. Each day, before the family added a new rock to the path, they would read that day’s verse from the accompanying devotional guide and choose a word from that verse to write on the rock. Then they would add the new rock to their path.
Some families left their path on display throughout the season as a visual sign of the coming celebration of Easter. Others packed up the stones each day, giving them the opportunity to remember and reflect on the words they had chosen as they pulled out each stone. As the pile of remaining rocks became smaller and smaller, families moved with expectation toward Easter Sunday.
“The more I connect with families, the more I’m reminded that families thrive when given simple, meaningful faith formative activities,” said Keeley.
“Writing down a word a day on a rock and forming a path to Easter is so simple that it could be done during a meal, right after school, or before bedtime.
“But this wonderful activity will be a continual reminder of God’s Big Story as families pull out their stones year after year, remembering the words they wrote together and the ways these pointed them to Jesus’ death and resurrection.”
Additional Lent Resources
Lent Resource Guide (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship)