Ashes on ice: Celebrating Ash Wednesday at home

February 18th, 2015

The weather is usually a safe topic of conversation. It’s an easy way to chat without having to talk about important matters. It’s the preferred way to break the ice, as they say.

Except this winter. This winter, talk of weather can send shivers down your spine.

The winter of 2015 has been one of the coldest and snowiest winters in recent memory. At this moment, parts of the Northeast are sitting in 111” (9.25 feet) of snow. Most of the Mid-Atlantic is coated in snow and sleet. Even in the Southeast, cities like Nashville, TN and Raleigh, NC, areas normally safe from all of the real hazards of winter, are covered in a layer of ice.

It seems like Disney’s “Frozen” has leapt out of our televisions and into our communities. This year, many of us are residents of Arendelle. 

All of which can make gathering for worship particularly difficult, especially in communities that are not accustomed to dealing with a wintery mix. Normally, when the weather report is less than favorable this time of year, we send out word for our congregations to stay home, safe and warm. When snow and ice shower down and prevent us from gathering together physically in one place, our normal tradition is to cancel worship completely in order to err on the side of safety.  

But what if there was another option? What if we tapped into a deeper tradition, one where the people of God in diaspora maintain the liturgy and prayers of the faith in their homes?  

Israel has a long tradition of locating the prayers of their faith in their households. From grand festivals like the celebration of the beginning of Passover with a Seder meal to the small, everyday rituals like the daily observance of the Hours, Israel has shown that sharing together in a common prayer is not necessarily dependent upon sharing common space. Of course, the ideal mode of prayer is to be physically together, but necessary separation due to illness, work, political exile or even weather should not squelch the prayers of the faithful.   

Israel has also taught us that sharing in common prayers and festivals binds us together. To be Jewish means to pray the prayers of Israel, no matter where you are. During World War II, the Jews in concentration camps prayed the same prayers as the Jews in New York. Rabbis in Jerusalem share the same prayer as laity in Moscow. Praying the prayers of the faith binds Israel together.

Israel has taught us that liturgy is highly portable. You can smuggle it in anywhere.  

Israel has also taught us that liturgy is highly relational. It can connect us across all creation.

We Christians also cling to this belief as people who are a part of the mystical communion of saints. Embedded in our theology is the notion that our prayers and practices of faith are interwoven across time and space with all those who have been baptized into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. 

We all have experienced this. We have watched the Holy Spirit hover over the elements in hospital rooms as we pray in that space, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”  

We have felt the Spirit of Pentecost bind us together as we have prayed the Lord’s Prayer with people of a different language, and yet prayed with one heart and mind.

Our liturgy is highly portable. You can smuggle this stuff in anywhere.

Our liturgy is highly relational. It connects us across all creation.

So how can we let a little snow and ice cancel worship? Sure, the wise call may be to not have people drive to the sanctuary, but by no means should we cancel worship.

Let’s smuggle the liturgy into our homes and be connected with all Christians across time and space who are remembering today that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. Let’s gather together in diaspora in order to repent and believe the Gospel.  

In that spirit, we have created a simple liturgy to be used at home by individuals and families. You can find it here:  

If you and your community are iced in, we invite you to connect them to this liturgy to be used in their homes in order to mark the beginning of Lent.

Then, invite them to post pictures of their households entering into this Lent using the hashtags #AshesAtHome #UMC.  

A little ice and snow can’t keep us from entering into the desert with Jesus as we move towards the cross and empty tomb this year. In the words of the Invitation to the Observance of Lenten Discipline, wherever you are:

“I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church,
     to observe a holy Lent;
     by self-examination and repentance;
     by prayer, fasting, and self-denial;
     and by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word.

 To make a right beginning of repentance,
     and as a mark of our mortal nature,
     let us now kneel (or bow) before our Creator and Redeemer.”

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