In the Western Christian Calnedar, Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent and celebrated 46 days before Easter Sunday. It is a moveable fast because it is dependent on the date of Easter. It has received it’s name for the tradition of placing the ashes on the foreheads of adherents as a sign of repentance. The ashes are made of the palms of the previous years Palm Sunday when they are burned. Some churches mix the ashes with the Oil of the Catechumens which is a sacred oil. The ashes are placed on the foreheads of adherents in the sign of the cross. The presiding layperson, minister, or pastor will usually say “Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return” from Genesis 3:19 when applying the ashes. The ashes can be received on the forehead or hand of anyone willing to participate in the sacrament. Ash Wednesday is a time of reflection, fasting, abstinence from meat (in the Roman Catholic tradition), and repentance. Biblically, the ashes express sorrow for one’s sins and faults (see Job 42:3-6). It is often a reminder of the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert fasting and praying. Jesus was also tempted during this time (see Luke 4:1-11; Matt 4:1-11; and Mark 1:12-13). You can celebrate Ash Wednesday next year on March 9, 2011.
The reason I mention this is because I discovered how profound it was to be reminded that we came from the earth and return to it. Ash Wednesday in the garden was celebrated by sowing our first seeds of the season. (Since we are located in mostly sunny California, we can plant for three full harvests and then cheat a bit throughout the winter months). I had the “Faithful Four” with me on Wednesday and our hands tilled and planted as we prepared for the evening service in reflection upon the goodness of the earth. In the garden, people are humbled. We may sometimes think we have a say in what grows where but if you spend some time planting and gardening, you will soon realize you had little to do with your harvest. So we prayed over our seeds and soil. We prayed for the God of creation to reign on the garden and produce good fruits for our neighbors and the hungry, for the widows and orphans, for the homeless and wanderers, for the sick and for the healthy.
I hope that as you continue your walk, it will lead you home.
Here is a visual link to our Ash Wednesday service at the Hollywood Adventist Church filmed by member Leslie Foster.