Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten season for the western church. Typically celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church and other liturgical denominations, Ash Wednesday is meant to remind participants of their mortality and call them to repentance in preparation for Lent and the celebration of Christ’s resurrection.
For more than 10 years, Glendale Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., has held Ash Wednesday services according to the liturgical calendar.
Ash Wednesday services have been an integral part of Lenten tradition since the 6th century.
“The ashes are a symbol of penance made sacramental by the blessing of the Church, and they help us develop a spirit of humility and sacrifice,” according to Catholic Online. “We remember this when we are told, ‘Remember, Man is dust, and unto dust you shall return.'”
Since Baptists have no imposed order of worship, Glendale pastor Mark Caldwell said the worship should be determined by the local community. And the community at Glendale is liturgically minded, he said.
“Baptists, as Puritans, may have cut themselves off from liturgy and magnified the proclamation of the word in the sermon,” Caldwell told EthicsDaily.com. “We are rediscovering the power of liturgy. We are exploring it together.”
Glendale’s Ash Wednesday service, which includes scripture readings, read prayers, hymns and the imposition of ashes, has been well attended, Caldwell said.
“People find the ‘Burning of Burdens’ very moving,” he said.
During the “Burning of Burdens” time, congregants are encouraged to bring pieces of paper bearing their burdens and struggles to the communion table where they will be burned. A short time later, the people return to the table to receive the imposition of ashes on their foreheads.
Traditionally, the ashes are made from the burnt remains of the previous year’s Palm Sunday branches.
“From ancient times Christians have on this day searched their hearts and sought to be cleansed from sin,” reads part of the prayer before the imposition of ashes at Glendale. “They have sought reconciliation with God and with one another. They have received ashes marked on their foreheads as a sign of sin’s disfigurement and of their own mortality.”
It may not be a very “Baptist” thing to do, but Caldwell said he wants to enliven people to hear the word of God in different ways.
“We are becoming part of a larger language of liturgy here,” he said. “We are still very much Baptist in our polity and beliefs in the priesthood of believer. We hold on to the best of our Baptist heritage, while trying to bring people to a sense of worship that includes the art, music and visual expression.”
And Ash Wednesday is just the beginning. The Lenten season last 40 days, excluding Sundays. Glendale is among the millions of churches that begin today this season of reflection and repentance.
Here is Glendale’s prayer for the season ahead:
“Holy God, through the discipline of these forty days, make your Spirit’s cleansing fire burn within us. Lift us from the dying embers of our inattention. Mark us with the sign of your holy passion. Make us ready to respond to the call of Jesus Christ. Amen.”
Jodi Mathews is BCE’s communications director.