I attended my first Ash Wednesday service this year, a little over two weeks ago.
I had observed Lent before, but never in an Anglican context. I observed Lent because I thought it could be a beneficial discipline. As it turns out, though, Lent is not just about discipline.
One of the reasons I've come to love the Anglican tradition is the manner in which communion is treated. The Eucharist is treated with obvious awe, reverence, care, seriousness, and joy. This is something I'd rarely experienced outside Anglicanism.
As I helped to prepare the altar] for communion this Ash Wednesday, the importance of the Eucharist was poignant as great care was taken to place and position the white linen, the chalices, the plate, and the bread. I felt a sense of anticipation and excitement as I thought about celebrating communion again, on Ash Wednesday.
But after the opening prayer and scripture reading, along with the invitation to observe self-examination and repentance, followed this prayer:
Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
The church then lined up, one by one. The [pastor] priest, with a finger covered in ashes, drew crosses on each of our foreheads, and spoke these words as he drew: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
I wasn't excited anymore.
When I consider the appeal of liturgical worship, especially during the lenten season, it occurs to me that many non-liturgical churches rarely have an ebb and flow in their worship. What do i mean by this? Well, with the exception of a (usual) monthly communion, church services are generally happy times. And if you're not happy, you are strongly encouraged to be happy. Of course, a sermon could lead you to reflection and repentance, but it is unlikely that happens every week. The Lenten season is a time when (an observing) church gathers, and as a unit, generally observes a 40 + day season of fasting, reflection/contemplation, and repentance in the pattern of Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness, in anticipation of Easter. Confession is moved to the beginning of the liturgy every Sunday, and there are no ALLELUIAs spoken within that liturgy. Everybody prayers this together before the Collect and the Lessons:
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned again You in thought, word and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of Your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in Your will, and walk in Your ways, to the glory of Your name. Amen.
I wasn't excited anymore. Instead, I was reminded of my human frailty, and felt hopeful, at the same time. There is nothing like fasting to prove how frail my spirit actually is, not to mention my body, but I am not alone, because Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. And I don't need to depend on myself, because the resurrection is the breath of life that I desperately need, and I need to be reminded that I need Jesus. In the mountains, in the valleys, in the wilderness, I need Jesus.