I have been openly critical of some of the recent marketing attempts by Church leadership. Thankfully, my friend and colleague, Adam Trambley wrote a reasoned response to the 2013 Episcopal Church marketing debacle so that I could just be snarky on Facebook, but honestly who thought this was a good idea?
Anyway, in recent years there has been an up and coming trend called “Ashes to Go” in which clerical and lay representatives from congregations set up shop at a busy intersection, outside a popular coffee shop, or near a subway entrance and engage in the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday for those who are too busy to be bothered to come to Church on one of the very few days of obligation remaining in our overly scheduled culture. This post will not weigh the merits of Ashes to Go because honestly I’m conflicted about it. On one hand, I think the notion of getting outside of the church walls and engaging in guerrilla liturgy is a good and noble thing. On the other, I think that the imposition of ashes is a sacramental symbol that can’t be done in isolation from the rest of the liturgy for Ash Wednesday and it loses is value outside of a community of faith. That being said, there is no way Ashes to Go would work in Foley. There is no central hub of walking activity. Everyone is in their own cars going to their own jobs. Unless I figured out a way to rain down ashes like confetti at the corner of AL-59 and US-98, it’d be a fruitless endeavor, no matter how well I tied up the liturgical quagmire into a neat bow to make sense of it in my own brain.
So it is that I’ve fallen in love with what seems to be the Council of Trent to the Ashes to Go’s 95 Theses, a movement summed up by this great button that you can buy from oldlutheran.com.
The Liturgy for Ash Wednesday is, to my mind, a uniquely powerful one. It is our habit, those of us who attend the Holy Eucharist with regularity, to approach the altar rail ready to receive the body and blood of Jesus in the species of bread and wine. We are entrenched in the pattern of coming forward, kneeling (for most of us) at the altar rail, and reaching out our hands to obtain “the Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven” and “the Blood of Christ, the Cup of Salvation.” On Ash Wednesday, that experience is very different. We come forward. We kneel (most of us). But we don’t hear the common words. We don’t taste the familiar elements. Instead, we feel the cold scratching on our forehead as roughly ground palm ashes mixed with oil are smeared across our brow as we hear the words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” It is an arresting experience, so different than what we’re used to, and very much needed in a world that moves, as my Rector would say, “at break neck speed on the road to no where.”
One can’t have that experience without stopping for a few moments, without stepping out of the passing lane and taking a pause. It is the one thing that even the best expression of Ashes to Go can’t offer, the intentionality of changing the normal pattern of just one day in order to hear the voice of God as he speaks through the Church. I get that some simply can’t step out of the patterns of life, and for them, I’m glad Ashes to Go exists, but for the rest of us, honestly the 99.9% of us who can take the time to stop for 30 minutes and invite God into our hearts and onto our foreheads, I say, “Get your Ash in Church.”
If you’re in Foley, join us at 506 N. Pine Street at noon and 6pm.
A nursery will be available at 6pm.