Ash Wednesday Palm Crosses

I was raised in an evangelical Church. The only holidays we celebrated in church were Christmas and Easter. There was nothing traditional about those celebrations — indeed, there was often the desire to do something “new” and “exciting” that would attract “young families with children”. The traditions that seemed to endure were the secular ones — Easter Egg hunts, Christmas Trees, and sweet things (cookies at Christmas, chocolate at Easter).

In the 20 years or so that I’ve been learning about Anglicanism, I’ve been especially impressed with the traditions of feasting and fasting. Every Sunday is a Feast Day — even during Lent! The Church believes that it is inappropriate to fast on the day in which we always — every week — celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord.

We did that when I was a kid. “Sunday Dinner”, which was right after church, was always a feast. Friends and visiting missionaries were invited over after church to join us. Hot dogs and hamburgers were not appropriate for this meal; this meal was to be a pot roast, a chicken, or something “nice”.

Shrove Tuesday is an historical church tradition of feasting. The feast is almost always pancakes, and lots of them. In the days before electricity, perishables needed to be consumed before Lenten disciplines began.

Whereas feasting might attract those “young families” churches crave, fasting isn’t likely to be much of a draw. Fasting is not for the faint of faith, but it is a tradition worth keeping.

The tradition of Ash Wednesday and the accompanying 40 days of fasting, have come to be quite helpful in my spiritual life.

The purpose of fasting is not to “give something up” so much as to “get something more”. You don’t have to fast only from food; one can fast from TV, from a “smart” phone, or from anything else that might consume time and energy. Instead of eating lunch on a Monday, that time could be taken to read the Scriptures, pray for the needy, or some other spiritual discipline. Put the money you would save aside to give to a missions project or other worthy cause. When you feel hungry, use that as a reminder of your need for spiritual food — that is, your need for God Himself.

Perhaps try to fast from bad thoughts about people you don’t like, or people who annoy you. Most of us have someone like that in our lives — someone that it is hard to think good thoughts about. The best way to avoid bad thoughts is to replace them with good thoughts. Instead of mentally documenting your annoyance, say a prayer for that person. Pray for them regularly.

Ash Wednesday presents another opportunity for fasting. On Ash Wednesday, we approach the altar humbly to have ashes applied to our foreheads. The priest reminds us that we are but dust, and that to dust we shall return. The ashes are applied in the shape of the cross; even though we are but dust, the cross of Christ has made us right with God.

If you’ve never participated in the traditions of Ash Wednesday, Lenten, and Good Friday fasts, prayerfully consider it this year. If you are able, take the day off from work on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Take the time to consider what Christ has done for us on the Cross, the price it cost him to do it, and how you can show your appreciation for it, and your devotion to Him in it.

You may find that when the fast is over, the feast will mean even more.

Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper – February 9th at 5:30 pm, in the Parish Hall.
Ash Wednesday Mass – 
February 10th at  8:00 am, 12:00 pm, 5:30 pm, in the Chapel.

This article was written by Ben Conarroe, founder of ProMentors, featured in the 2014 Winter Messenger. Photo: “Ashes from Palms” by Fr Lawrence Lew, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.