Christianity enters solemn phase of year
As people knelt to receive two strokes of ash on their foreheads, they heard the familiar words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
It was an important reminder of mortality, but also of hope.
“The ashes are a symbol of both death and renewal,” said the Rev. Barbara Johnson of American Lutheran Church in Grand Junction. “They’re an ancient symbol of burning the fields in spring, preparing for rebirth and new crops.”
On an Ash Wednesday that, in the Grand Valley, hinted of spring, Christians of various denominations began Lent, the time leading up to Easter, with a cross of ashes on their foreheads or with prayer and reflection or a simple meal of soup and bread.
“The season of Lent is a quiet time,” Johnson said. “It’s intended to be a time when we really just let go of some of the busyness and things that distract us from our spiritual lives and from our personal relationship with God.”
Picking up on a growing national trend, the Rev. Nature Johnston of the Episcopal Church of the Nativity participated in the Ashes to Go program for an hour Wednesday afternoon. She and a deacon from the church stood on the sidewalk in front of the church at 2175 Broadway and offered the imposition of ashes to anyone who stopped as they were driving or walking by.
“I feel like it’s time to bring church to the people,” Johnston said. “We’re all just so busy, and (imposition of ashes) is an ancient tradition that has a lot of significance to really a lot of people, but probably 95 percent of them just don’t have the opportunity to get to church on Ash Wednesday because they can’t get off at noon, or they’re working late. We’re happy to take this to the people.”
Those who did make it to Ash Wednesday services held at Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist and other churches — and most offered at least two during the day — received not just a cross on their foreheads, but messages about giving willing sacrifice. Some fasted, some abstained from meat, some donated to Lenten funds that will be given to social service or relief organizations.
“We make sacrifices during Lent to show our love for God,” said Jack Stuckenschneider, director of liturgy and music at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church. “By fasting or giving up something we love during Lent, we show that we can control our appetites, that we will willingly sacrifice as Christ sacrificed for us.”
A common Ash Wednesday tradition is a meal of soup and bread following the service, which represents “the idea of simplicity,” Johnson said. “It’s a symbolic fasting from a meal that might have been more substantial.”
It’s also a time of community building, Stuckenschneider said.
“If we’re going to be a faith family, we need to pray together, we need to worship together, we need to have fun together, we need to talk with one another,” he said. “We find Christ in other people, too, and we think about that especially during Lent.”