Wednesday, February 26, 2020 marks the first day of Lent – Ash Wednesday. For the next forty days (excluding Sundays) the people of God are called to self-denial and discipline, a solemn preparation for Easter. In the Early Church, Lent was a time of preparation for the Easter baptism of converts to the faith. Persons who were to receive the sacrament of baptism – “new birth,” “death to sin” – were expected to fast and prepare during these weeks. Candidates for baptism (catechumens) were led through the stories of the Bible that helped them examine the nature of the life they were about to enter. Through experience of fasting, self-denial, and acknowledgment of their need to repent and turn to God, they began to live out Paul’s vision of offering oneself to God:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1)
Ash Wednesday is a time of confession that carries a spirit of sorrow and contrition over sins that permeates the Lenten season. For this reason, the word alleluia is omitted from all liturgies during Lent and restored again during the celebration of Easter.
If your church or family plans on participating in a Mardi Gras (the Carnival – “Carnem, vale” = farewell to meat) celebration in the tradition of Venice, New Orleans, or Rio de Janeiro or a Shrove Tuesday (shriven from sins) with the eating of pancakes (to remove all the butter, milk, eggs, and fat from the pantry), consider creating an Alleluia Banner and then ceremoniously burying it. This can be done the Sunday before Ash Wednesday also.
You are never too young to pray. For many parents, as well as many adults, prayer does not come easily. Growing up, my parents regularly helped me learn prayers at bedtime, starting with the simple “Now I lay me down to sleep” until I knew The Lord’s Prayer and could say it on my own before bed overnight. We said grace at meals, and I learned “Be present at our table, Lord . . .” As an Episcopalian, I grew up with the Book of Common Prayer and as time went on, I learned where to find other prayers to assist me in my own prayer life. Now I don’t need a prayer book to help me pray, but is sure is nice to have a book of prayers handy with the words just don’t seem to come. After all, prayer is simply a conversation with God: Help! Thanks! Wow!
But now there is a new book out just for children and the parents, teachers, and adults who care for them so much that they want to teach them prayers and share in the experience of talking to God at all times and in all places. Jenifer Gamber and Timothy J.S. Seamans have put together a beautiful compilation of prayers (originally and familiar) that are accompanied by delightful line drawings by Perry Hodgkins Jones.
Divided into six “parts,” Common Prayer for Children and Families offers The Lord’s Prayer (in many versions) and Mealtime Prayers (new and traditional) as well as ways to pray through the day for every day of the week. There are prayers for each of the seasons of the church year as well as the ordinary events of life for one’s self, at home, at school, and at camp. There are prayers for saints past and present, as well as for the needs of the world. With a thematic index as well as a scripture index, finding just the right prayer to share with your child is now just a page away.
The life and legacy of Absalom Jones is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, his faith, and his commitment to the causes of freedom, justice, and self-determination. Born a slave, he became one of the founders of the black Episcopal church in America, becoming the first African American Episcopal priest. He was a leading figure among Philadelphia’s African American community (born a slave in 1746 in Delaware, he was manumitted – released from slavery – in 1784) who advocated the abolition of slavery from the pulpit. You can read more about him at the Episcopal Church Archives site. His feast day (day of death) is February 13.
Set us free, Heavenly Father, from every bond of prejudice and fear; that, honoring the steadfast courage of your servant Absalom Jones, we may show forth in our lives the reconciling love and true freedom of the children of God, which you have given us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(Collect for Absalom Jones, February 13 in Lesser Feasts and Fasts, 2006, p. 160)
There are many sermons and documents, plus an official portrait of Absalom Jones. Choose more or more of the following to delve deeper into the life of this important American and priest:
It’s only been a couple of weeks since (reportedly) 1,300 Episcopalians and friends met in Atlanta, Georgia for what was subversively called Episcopalooza or “General Convention with workshops, but no legislation.” The brainchild of Bill Campbell, former Executive Director of Forma: The Network for Christian Formation this conference brought together various cohorts within the Episcopal Church (and beyond) to explore formation, evangelism, preaching, leadership, mission, stewardship, and communications. A massive undertaking with a lot of behind the scenes work from many individuals, it was the Church at its best. Worship was extraordinary, workshops were inspiring and informative, creativity was abundant, and Jesus was proclaimed. Even the hotel staff got in on the action and “rooted for Jesus.”
It was too much to digest and while I got to see LOTS of friends and colleagues, I missed many opportunities to network or attend presentations because I couldn’t be at two (or three) places at once. Thankfully, many presentations were live-streamed via Forma’s Facebook page and many were recorded so that even those unable to be present could be fed by the experience. My take-aways and learnings:
Since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, his birthday on January 15 has been honored with speeches, sharing Dr. King’s values of the American Dream, equal opportunity, and that one day white and black children might be judged by “the content of their character . . . [and not] by the color of their skin.” How do we do justice to Dr. King’s commitment to social justice that involves (as it do for him) personal faith, the New Testament’s gospel of unconditional love, and the Old Testament prophetic insistence on righteous justice? “It is not enough for us to talk about love,” he told his followers. “There is another side called justice . . . . Standing beside love is always justice. Not only are we using the tools of persuasion––we’ve got to use the tools of coercion.”