Dear Partners in Mission:
Since the beginning of this pandemic our communities have adapted and leaned into new ways of being. We have considered how to carry out ministry, continue to have worship, celebrate the sacraments, and do the work of the church. We have learned to do much of our work in ways that care for our neighbor and help preserve life. You, our NT-NL leaders and members have been adaptable, creative, and positive in the face of these challenges. For this I am grateful. And there is great hope on the horizon as the vaccine continues to be administrated. But we might also have hoped that by this point in 2021 we would be seeing signs of the end of the pandemic. Unfortunately, we are not. As such we must continue to adapt as we prepare for Lent 2021 including Ash Wednesday.
Many of you I know have already made your plans for Ash Wednesday and Lent while others have inquired as to my counsel on how we are both faithful to our traditions as well as care for our neighbor. So I offer a few thoughts here for you related to Ash Wednesday and Lenten observances.
- Emphasize Faith in the Home: I have seen creative options being sent to families and shared online. Some have sent small packets of ash, or you can teach families how to create their own with just a small amount of burnt paper crushed and mixed with a small amount of oil (no water please, it makes acid). This is a great time to help parents teach their children the faith.
- Forego the imposition of ashes/modify practice: In my first call I was asked “Pastor, when did the synod start making us have ashes?” While many of us, myself included, find the imposition of ashes a profound ritual there is good reason to forego it this year entirely. My colleague Bishop Matthew Riegel (WV-WMd Synod) reminds us that Ash Wednesday and Ashes are an adiaphoron. Not essential to salvation. He also, as is his form, addresses a number of other potential practices around the ritual.
- Ensure the Word is proclaimed clearly: The Word of God is powerful and active. As I reminded us back on March 22, 2020, when first giving counsel on how to handle this pandemic. We have a call to proclaim the living and active Word of God to the world. And God’s Word makes things happen.
Whatever you choose to do this Ash Wednesday and Lent I pray you do so continuing to prioritize the health and safety of our neighbors. That is a critical part of our witness in this time. We do not simply rush to find ways to perform ritual that sooth us in this challenging time. Instead we recognize the words “remember you are dust and to dust you shall return” speak all the more clearly as we contemplate 400,000+ individuals whose lives have ended from this pandemic and the losses we have all experienced in this time.
As we look forward into this coming season of penitence we know the power of the law over us. The reality of death, our sin and complicity, are all around us this year. They can even overwhelm us. So as we make our preparations for a Holy Lent this year, may you also remember clearly the gospel. Our rituals and actions do not save us, God in Christ, crucified and raised, saves us through faith given by the Holy Spirit. May that spirit enliven and enlighten you in this time.