Sunday's Palms are Wednesday's Ashes
CST students, faculty and staff representing various traditions gathered in Kresge Chapel on Wednesday, March 5th for a service in observance of Ash Wednesday. CST faculty members, Rev. Dr. Kathy Black, Kennedy Professor of Homiletics and Liturgics, and Rev. Dr. Karen Dalton, Associate Professor of the Practice of Ministry, led the service. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten Season, a forty-day period of penitence leading up to the dramatic events of Holy Week, culminating with Christ’s crucifixion on Good Friday.
As Rev. Dr. Kathy Black explained, this solemn period also offers as a self-reflective, transformative time for the individual, “a time to be honest about how far short we fall of God’s will for our lives.”
Dr. Black invited the worshippers to reflect on attitudes, habits, and behaviors that may impede how Christians live according to Jesus’ Way. “This season is for a particular purpose,” said Black, “an opportunity for self-inventory, a time out, a pause for internal examination. A time of sacrifice. A time to rest in the arms of God.”
“I appreciated the intentional, directed focus of today’s service, and the time to review what is going on in our lives, in preparation for what is coming,” said CST 3rd year M.Div. student Wally Burman.
At the appointed time in the service, Ash Wednesday worshipers came forward for the traditional “imposition of the ashes,” receiving the mark of the cross, drawn in ash on the forehead or hand. Dr. Black explained that in the Hebrew Bible, ashes were used in mourning as a reminder of death and that the wearers of that ash stood in protest to the death, destitution, and violence in the world.
Earlier in the week, Dr. Black taught students how to make ashes from last year’s dried Palm Sunday fronds. First, trim the leaves and place them in a bowl lined with tin foil. After burning the fronds to ash, let the ashes cool. Apply with the thumb, dipped in dry ash, or combined with a small amount of oil. The ceremony is usually consecrated with a prayer (such as the one Dr. Black offered, provided below).
For 3rd year M.Div student Caroline Hamilton-Arnold, this season as a time to acknowledge that our world is hurting and that we contribute to that pain, whether we mean to or not. “During Lent, we acknowledge that people are broken and in pain and that death is a reality,” said Hamilton-Arnold. “Death is something that we rush to ignore the rest of the year. Lent allows us to look at death and think about how we can transform ourselves to live into resurrection, to live into life rather than death.”
The Lenten journey continues for six weeks, concluding with the Easter resurrection celebration.
Ash Wednesday Prayer, by Rev. Kathy Black
Last year these palm branches helped us hail Jesus' triumphant entrance into Jerusalem as we shouted "Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!" But that week ended in crucifixion. As we burn last year's fronds, we grieve Jesus' death but remember that death was not the final word. We give you thanks that Lent is a time of second chances where we can be reconciled with you and with one another. Bless those who receive the mark of these ashes on Ash Wednesday. May we all mourn the evil in this world and recommit ourselves for sacrificial living. Amen.
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