“From dust you came and to dust you shall return.” What was what the priest whispered as he put ash on the foreheads of the parishioners of St. Matthew’s Episcopal in Laramie. This Valentines Day I went to my first Ash Wednesday service. This is also the first time I am fasting during the lenten season.
NO MORE SOCIAL MEDIA! OR TV! These are the things I gave up for lent this year. I always liked the Idea of Lent, but I have never actually taken the 40 days to fast and reflect on the Death and Resurrection, the celebration of which concludes the lenten season.
I walked in right about 12:15pm MST when the service was scheduled to start. The Bishop and some deacons were there waiting to start the procession of the wooden cross staff and the book containing the four Gospel accounts.
Aside from my brief delve into Catholicism, my cousin’s Greek Orthodox wedding, and a Christmas Eve service at my church, I never go to the divine liturgy. Every time I go I remember that the service has a more boring feel to it than a holy feel. This service was no exception. I know that there are people who highly prefer a high church feel, but I am not one of them. I like to have an informal feel. I want to go to church and sing songs full of passion and that is just how I worship God. Liturgy just isn’t for me.
After the procession there was a singing of the hymns. I enjoy hymns, but I was distracted by a the voice of an angel coming from the back of the room. My initial feeling was that this woman was just showing off, but then I reminded myself that she isn’t singing for me or anyone else, but she is lifting her beautiful voice to praise and honor God. Well, I don’t know her heart, but that would be the less cynical view.
After the hymn I was throughly uncomfortable. I read a book in College about the different types of worship and I remember the guy who liked liturgy explaining that they love to see the uncomfortable expressions on the uninitiated. well I definitely had an uncomfortable expression on my face.
The next phase of the service was the reading of the Gospels. Now, I knock liturgy. I think it is a little weird. I prefer a more relaxed and informal service, but I can’t say that the liturgical churches don’t place a high value on the Gospels. At the church I went to there was a book that only contained the gospels. The book was a sort of brownish red leather binding with a foil gold cross on the front. It was a beautiful book. And the woman in charge of the book was holding it over her head like it was a trophy that she just won. I snickered to myself a little because I remembered recently reading a book about a muslim, and he gave the Quran the same treatment after being scolded for letting it touch the ground. It was very reverent, a little showy, but reverent.
With the Gospel book there was a procession of the bishop and the lady holding a wooden cross staff. When the reached the middle of the room, the bishop ceremoniously opened the book and read a passage from Matthew:
“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.
And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.
Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.”
I know there are many people who love this type of church. It is their favorite type of worship, but i thought it struck me as a little bit silly that they were doing this big show then reading about not being like the hypocrites by making a big religious show. That doesn’t mean that the people in this church, and all the other liturgical churches in the world, are hypocrites, but i do think they ACT the same way that Jesus is talking about here. I’m not saying they are hypocrites in their hearts, but I am saying they are making a big religious show.
After the gospel was the homily. It was great. The Bishop talked about love. I mean what better message of love than the martyrdom of St. Valentine and the sacrifice of Jesus that concludes the lenten season.
Then came the main event. Well, for me it was the main event. Every Ash Wednesday I see people with the ashy cross on their forehead and think to myself that I want to do that one year.Well this was the year, and I felt like a giddy little kid. So I waited with much excitement for the mark on my forehead. I thought it would be this great feeling. Like a holy experience.
I got the cross and was reminded that I came from dust and to dust I will return and that was it. In fact, I always think of the liturgical church as a holy and reverent place. I mean the beauty of the church itself is a testament to the fact that what goes on in there is Holy. I felt that this is true particularly during the liturgy. It was not that way for me. Rather it was a sort of boring experience for me. Again, I want to reiterate that this is all my own opinion. I just felt like the whole thing fell flat.
I have had some time to reflect after attending the service. I am glad I went. I always tell Arianne I want to go to a high church service, but now I remember the truth. This is not for me. This was the first, and it will likely be the last, Ash Wednesday service I will attend.
The one thing I will say is that this church is a testament to the dying church in the US. To me it seemed that in 20 years there won’t be any church members there anymore. I went to the service at 12:15pm, so maybe it would have been different in the morning or the evening, but the church was empty and most of them were in their golden age.
It’s sad to me because the church here in Laramie is beautiful. The Art and the stained glass. I only hope that even if the people don’t attend that church anymore that the leadership of the Episcopal Church maintains the building as an historical site.
God Bless, and I hope you all have a beautiful Lenten Season.