This post is mainly for all of us Church of Christ lifers. We know “separate and apart,” we know Acts 2:38, we know “the church is not the building, it’s the people,” we know 728B. We’ve got the stamp on our heels. Three songs and a prayer. “Guide, guard, and direct us.” We know who we are.
And we’re uncomfortable with liturgy.
It’s nothing to be ashamed of. We come by it naturally. Our movement has traditionally and, largely, uncritically rejected almost all forms of Christian liturgy as symbols of religious excess and tools for clerical abuse. As non-scriptural innovations. As rote formulas and meaningless ritual. Most of us can’t help the way a memorized creed or a written prayer makes us feel. We were raised to believe it wasn’t real, it didn’t come from the heart, unless you made it up on the spot.
Let me invite you to participate in an Ash Wednesday service somewhere today.
Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent, the season of repentance and prayer and fasting before Easter. In the early decades of Christianity, this 40-day period was observed by candidates for baptism, which was typically reserved for Easter Sunday. In the third and fourth centuries, people who were separated from the Church because of their sin observed a season of Lent as they were restored to fellowship. Then, over time, the Church recognized that it would be good for all Christians to enter a time of repentance and prayer and fasting. All Christians need to be reminded that repentance is a daily exercise, not a one time event. All Christians need the assurance of the forgiveness and salvation that is promised in the Good News, that was accomplished in the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus.
So, I would encourage you to find an Ash Wednesday service somewhere today and go.
It might be a brand new thing for you. It might be a little strange. It might be really beautiful. You might learn something, you might see something, you might hear something or experience something that might really bless you and increase your faith.
The ashes on your forehead are a physical reminder of the Gospel: God created us out of his great love, we have sinned and fallen short of his glory, we are in desperate need of forgiveness and salvation, he forgives us and restores us through Christ Jesus our Lord. The ashes remind us that we are human — we are made of dust and to dust we will return — and that we need God. They also serve as a symbol of sorrow for sin and repentance. And they acknowledge that the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ Jesus surpasses in glory the burnt offerings made by the priests. That’s why when the pastor puts the ashes on your forehead he says, “Repent and believe the Gospel.”
Go find an Ash Wednesday service. Go with a group of people so you can process it together afterward. Ask God to speak to you during that service, to reveal himself to you, to grow your faith in him, and to strengthen the bond you have with all disciples of Christ throughout all Christian denominations. As you leave the assembly in silence, be resolved to remain in the Word, to continually self-reflect, and to be in constant prayer.
Nothing will be off the cuff. It will all be carefully scripted. And maybe, just maybe, by God’s grace and the power of his Spirit, it might be exactly what you need.