Kevin Snow: Special services offer congregants a chance to share
On Ash Wednesday, Feb. 13th, the familiar words from the book of Ecclesiastes (3:20) will be upon the lips of priests and pastors around the world: "All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again."
In a world that is becoming increasingly diverse and divided, death remains the greatest equalizer. Sometimes sudden and sometimes planned, often avoided and occasionally embraced, death visits the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the religious and the secular. It is a humble experience for a pastor to dip his or her thumb into the ashes, look a congregant or a community member in the eyes, make the mark of the cross upon their forehead, and remind them that they too will die.
These ashes and words unite groups of people that are usually divided across any number of lines: gender, race, age, socioeconomic status, sexuality, political party, etc. Young parents bring forward infants and children, "From dust you were made..." Indestructible teens walk forward confidently, "...and to dust you shall return." A person with an uncertain medical future falls in line, "From dust you were made..." A recent college graduate with their future planned out follows suit, "...and to dust you shall return." An elderly couple walks down the aisle, hand in hand, "From dust you were made..." The final person turns and offers the ashes to the clergyperson, "...and to dust you shall return."
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent, 40 days of preparation that will prepare the mind and soul for Easter Sunday.
Lent spans the spectrum of human emotion. Ash Wednesday allows us to probe the biological and theological concepts of finitude and mortality. Many Christians will "give something up for Lent" in an attempt to practice sacrifice, self-discipline and fasting. Others will see the practice as clearing time and space in an intentional effort to be more open to God.
Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week, and will surface emotions of triumph and celebration, reminiscent of Jesus' majestic yet humble entrance into Jerusalem. Maundy Thursday is a somber observance of Jesus' final meal with his disciples and calls to mind the difficult feelings of denial, betrayal and desertion. Many churches observe the evening with a re-enactment of the Lord's Supper or a service of Tenebrae.
Good Friday continues in the theme of Maundy Thursday as Christians remember the torture, mocking, and crucifixion of Jesus. It is difficult to experience the fullness of Palm and Easter Sundays without dwelling for some time in the darkness and struggle of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
During the season of Lent, the Downtown Churches Association will offer two opportunities for the downtown congregations and Tri-State community to worship together. First, a combined Ash Wednesday service will take place at noon at First United Methodist Church, 1124 5th Ave. Rev. Mark Connor will give the homily at this service. Additionally, a combined Good Friday service will take place at noon March 29 at Trinity Episcopal Church, 520 11th St. Father Chip Graves will give the homily at this service.
These combined opportunities for worship are important because they offer local Christians the opportunity to share dialogue, practice unity and work toward ecumenism. They allow us to explore the worship spaces of our neighbors, participate in other Christian traditions and experience the perspective of others.
Frequently, our downtown churches see one another as the competition. These ecumenical services of worship remind us that despite differences in practice and doctrine, we find our commonality in Jesus, our commitment to the poor and marginalized and our desire to share God's love with the world.
Easter will arrive very early this spring, but the season of Lent will prepare us well for the journey ahead.
Kevin Snow is pastor of Central Christian Church in Huntington.