Ash Wednesday Marks the Beginning of Lent

Lent is the season in the church year that occurs just before Easter.  The observance of Lent goes back to the early days of the Church.  It was originally a time of preparation for those who desired to be baptized during the Easter Celebration called the Easter Vigil.  Since baptism is the sacrament that Jesus associated with forgiveness and new life in Christ, it was commonly practiced at Easter when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  His resurrection holds for us the promise of forgiveness of sins and the gift on everlasting life to all who believe.  From the very beginning of the Christian faith, the proclamation of the Good News has always been a call “to repent and be baptized.”  So the early church set aside a time for new believers in Jesus to prepare for their baptism with a time of self-examination, repentance, and prayer.  This season was then extended to include the whole church as an opportunity for all to renew their faith in Christ as well.

Lent is a 40 day time set aside for repentance, fasting, and spiritual renewal.  The 40 days also commemorates the 40 day period of fasting of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Judean wilderness following His baptism.  During that time the Gospels tell us that he faced strong temptation from the Devil.  This time of fasting was a time of preparation for Jesus.  After He victoriously withstood those temptations, the Gospels tell that He returned in the power of the Holy Spirit, and His public ministry began.  So during the season of Lent we have the opportunity to exercise the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, self-examination and repentance as a way to draw near to the Lord. This does not mean that this is the only time when attention should be given to these disciplines, but having a regular time each year when we focus on this aspect of our faith helps us to not neglect them during the rest of the year.  The purpose for Lent then is to help usher in a time of spiritual growth and renewal which is the fruit that comes from drawing near to God.  During Lent we anticipate the celebration of our Lord’s resurrection, and we believe that His victory over sin and death when He rose from the grave empowers our spiritual life.  Lent is a time to reconnect our lives to His resurrection power.

So why does Lent begin on Ash Wednesday?  This is because Sundays are not included among the fast days so they are not counted in the forty days.  If you count back forty days from Easter but omit the Sundays you find that the first day of Lent is always a Wednesday.  This year Ash Wednesday falls on March 1.  It is called Ash Wednesday because we use ashes in liturgy that day.  During the worship service we mark our foreheads with ashes in the sign of the cross.  Ashes have typically been used as sign of repentance.  The ashes also reminds us of our mortality.  The words spoken during the imposition of the ashes are “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” These words echo the Word of God to Adam and Eve after the fall.  It reminds us that life is short, and we are not guaranteed tomorrow.  Therefore we should live our lives today and every day in light of eternity.  We mark our foreheads with ashes in the sign of the cross to remember our Baptism after which we are also marked with the sign of the cross.  Marking the forehead with the sign of the cross reminds us that we belong to Him.  This centers the focus our Lenten journey on the Lord Himself, who has marked us as His own.  The Ash Wednesday Liturgy reminds us that if we bring the ashes of our life to the Lord, in faith, that He will bring us to new life.

Trinity Anglican Church will have Ash Wednesday Services on Wednesday, March 1 at noon and 7pm.  All are welcome to join us.  We are located at 8486 Bowden St. in historic Douglasville.  Visit us at trinityanglicanchurch.com

 

St. Francis and the Blessing of the Animals

The Blessing of Animals is a tradition in the church that celebrates the goodness of God’s creation.  Genesis tells us that God created the heavens and the earth.  Then he filled the earth with living creatures, and when he completed that work, he beheld His creation and declared it to be good.  The Judeo-Christian tradition then, affirms the goodness of all of God’s creatures.

The blessing of animals traces its origin back to St. Francis of Assisi.  St Francis was born in Assisi, Italy in 1181 or 1182.  He was the son of a wealthy textile merchant.  As a young boy he was spoiled by his family’s wealth and had the reputation of a wild party goer, who drank excessively.  But all of that was soon to change.  When Assisi went to war with Perugia, Frances joined the cavalry and he was captured during a very bloody battle.  Because it was evident that he was a man of some means his life was spared so that they could hold him for ransom.  Francis spent a year in prison in squalid conditions before he was finally ransomed and released.

While in prison, Francis began to have visions from God, and when he finally returned home he was a changed man.  He began to seek God and turned his life to Christ.  One day while in the Church of San Damiano, he heard the voice of Christ telling him to live a life of poverty and to rebuild the church.  Francis renounced his wealth and took up a life of simplicity and devotion to God and to serving the poor.  The Franciscan Monastic Order grew out of the following that was begun by this holy man of God.

Francis also had a great love of nature and especially of animals.  There are many stories about Francis and his relationship with animals.  He is said to have preached to the birds and to have tamed a wolf that had been terrorizing a nearby village.  Francis reminds us of the goodness of God’s creation, and of our responsibility to care for God’s creatures.  Because of his special love for animals St. Francis became the patron saint of animals, and so the tradition of the blessing of pets, has been observed on the day that is set aside in the church to remember St. Francis.

When we celebrate the goodness of God’s creation, however, we are always careful to make a distinction between the good creation and the God who created it.  Some have erred by confusing the two, and essentially deifying the creation.  An analogy might be helpful here,  My mother was an excellent watercolor artist who painted all of her life.  She put a lot of herself into her art, and anyone who knew her could discern in her art somethings about her.  But no one would confuse my mother with her art.  In the same way we must not confuse God with his creation, even though we can see discern something of God when we observe the wonders and beauty of the creation.  Let us allow that wonder and beauty to spur us on to seek the creator who made everything, and then has revealed himself most fully by taking on flesh in the person of Jesus Christ and revealing most clearly the love of our Father God.  It was this discovery of God in Christ Jesus in the life of St. Francis that led him to that deep appreciation of God’s wonderful creation.

Trinity Anglican Church will hold a service of the blessing of animals on Saturday, October 8.  The service will be held in the parking lot of the church at 8486 Bowden St., in historic Douglasville and will begin at 1:00pm.  The service is being held together with the Douglas County Humane Society and Top Dog Pet Sitter.  The public is invited to participate and to bring your pets for a blessing.  Please bring your pet on a leash or in a carrier, and consider bringing a donation of pet food (dry or canned) for the Humane Society’s Pet Pantry.  The pantry gives pet food to low income families who have trouble affording pet food.  For more information visit http://douglascountyhumanesociety.org/