Scripture: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-20 (NRSV)
Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
The older I've become, the more meaning I find in the basic rituals of our Christian faith. Ash Wednesday services joined that list many years ago. Around 1980, I began attending the Wednesday service of morning prayer at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Hartford. I did so for over twenty-five years, rarely missing. It was a small but faithful group who shared a breakfast of hard-boiled eggs, donuts, and muffins afterwards.
I found kneeling in the pews from time to time very helpful in centering my prayer. When Ash Wednesday rolled around, the act of going forward, kneeling, and receiving the ashes on my forehead was radically different from my Presbyterian background. It was not that I found communion in the pews or the Lenten messages on humility and penance lacking in meaning. The symbolism of sitting, listening, and being served has always been powerful and remains so. But the physical process of going forward and kneeling with others opened up new dimensions of the Gospel, and the sense of being marked by a cross of ashes made me think more seriously and deeply about my relationship to God, to Jesus, and to others for the rest of Ash Wednesday and often far beyond.
Many of our UCC churches (like the one I attend) have adopted that ancient ritual to begin the Lenten season. It is a movement I appreciate and applaud. Most still omit an opportunity to kneel, and many of us in our older years find it difficult to kneel; but receiving a tangible, visible reminder of one's mortality, and Who it is whose Way we follow. Involving the body, along with the mind and spirit, provides a liturgical trinity that uniquely stimulates our ability to imagine the journey to Easter.
O holy One: As we enter another journey toward Easter, we pray for guidance and faithfulness. Help us to walk with imagination enhanced and our antenna set to receive your Word for us each day, and your presence with us every step. Enable us to engage with all people of faith, whatever their tradition, that we may learn what they have to teach us about humility and faithfulness, and to share what we have learned of your love.
Minister of Visitation for the First Church of Christ Congregational UCC in Glastonbury, Connecticut