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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

ash wednesday worship

Tonight we had the Ash Wednesday service. I've done the service ever since I came to Good Shepherd. It's always meaningful (if a bit somber), but this year things were noticeably different. I attribute much of this to the Wednesday night experiment. We've been reaching out and you can tell a difference.

There are toddlers and elementary age children running everywhere. There are middle school kids from the section 8 housing coming for tutoring (seems like more each week). The teenagers are bringing more and more friends from outside the church (ok, mostly to date them, but nonetheless). The group home guys from across the street are regulars. And we've picked up some new adults as participants and members.

So stir six months of that in a pot and you will start to get a picture of tonight's "somber, reflective service on mortality and sin." For one, I decided not to have a lot of contemplative silence and prayer like I have in the past. That just wouldn't fly with so many children. I decided to sing a lot and explain a lot.

The enthusiasm and participation of the group home guys was something else. Two of these young men, in particular, just sang their guts out. And just because I got to the end of a song didn't mean they did - they would just keep singing extemporaneously until one of their house-mates shushed them. I will admit that having the two most passionate singers on the second row made it hard for me to hear myself and concentrate, but it was worth it. I thought, "How much like the Kingdom of God is this?!" These beautiful and sweet men - kind of like young boys stuck in men's bodies, sang praise with as much heart as I've ever heard from anyone. It was hard not to be inspired. After one song ("Come Thou Fount") one of these guys just let out a big "Woo!" - I can't think of a better "Amen" to what the Spirit was doing tonight.

The open prayer time ranged from short sentence prayers to a mom's heartfelt prayer for her son to a wide-ranging prayer by one of the group home guys, who prayed like he sang, with nothing held back.

Billy Howell, a young man who has grown up in our church wrote a song about being broken and sent it to me this morning... I decided to ask him to sing it while I was putting ashes on the congregation and it was perfect. He has struggled with so much - it moved me deeply to hear him leading us in worship and contemplation of our own brokenness and finitude by means of his own creative burst.

And finally, I'm not about the numbers, but it was packed! I don't think we've ever had more than 30-40 for Ash Wednesday. We normally sit on one-half of the sanctuary since so few are there. Well, they started on one side, filled it up, and spilled into the other - I'd guess well over 100 there.

As I stood to give the benediction and we sang the last line (of v. 2) of "My Faith Looks Up to Thee" ... pure, warm and changeless be, a living fire... I observed that we had book-ended the service talking about "fire" (first from Revelation, being 'hot' with fire, not lukewarm; and ending with the hymn above. Yet in the midst of this we were recognizing that we were like the ash - made from dust and destined for dust apart from God's intervention. Our only hope for life, for fire, was through hope in the resurrection in Jesus Christ. So, I put ashes on the foreheads of kids as young as 4 and some people in their 80s and reminded them:

God formed you from dust and to dust you shall return. Put your hope in God, for resurrection through Jesus Christ.

May you know the living fire of Christ, rising out of this ashen life. Amen.

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