We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, who are still here, and we honor with gratitude the land itself and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Photos from Ash Wed., Feb. 22, 2023

(full size gallery)

We had 15 people in the church and another 5 on Zoom. Preceding the service was a gorgeous sunset. The sermon was about how the righteous live – “storing up treasures in heaven and returning to God” which is our goal in Lent. Catherine ending was from a Jewish writing – “When all is left is Love”. The tag line -“Love doesn’t die, people do”

The Ash Wed service is a special service during the year getting the congregation ready to embark on a “Holy Lent” – “by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” Read more about the service

3 Key points for Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023

Sarah Bentley Allred at Virginia Theological Seminary has identified 3 teaching points for Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday marks the first day of the season of Lent, the forty days set aside to prepare to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Before he began his public ministry, Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness, being tempted by Satan, and resisting those temptations. The forty day season of Lent gives us needed time and space to enter into our own wilderness spaces as we examine our lives, acknowledge the ways that evil has slipped into our lives, ask for forgiveness, and make needed course corrections in our lives so that we can whole heartedly follow Jesus. The Ash Wednesday service is our doorway into this Lenten time and space in which we come before God in repentance, praying that God will strengthen our faith.

1 The Call to A Holy Lent “Our liturgy directly invites us into a holy season of specific practices aimed at helping us reconnect with God in preparation for the celebration of Easter. “I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent.” (Book of Common Prayer, page 265)

We see in this invitation that there are six specific ways which christians are called to deepen their devotion in this season.

A. By self-examination. This means setting aside time to intentionally reflect upon one’s thoughts and actions, acknowledging the ways in which we fall short of God’s goodness and love.

B. By repentance. To repent means to have “a change of heart” and to “turn around” from actions and attitudes contrary to God’s will. This means honestly confessing our sins to God and receiving his forgiveness.

C. By prayer. This calls us to take part in the Church’s corporate acts of worship as well as the setting aside of time for personal prayer.

D. By fasting. To fast is to abstain from certain foods or all food for a period of time. Fasting separates you from the distractions of this world and it brings us into a closer union with God. It allows us to hear God better and fully rely upon Him.

From our 2019 sermon – “Fasting as a discipline is becoming increasingly important in our fractured world– because fasting, not only from food, but from the things that divide us, can bring healing not only to ourselves but to humanity in general. This year, join me in fasting from something that divides you from other people.”

“Examine yourself to see what divides you from others, from the earth and from God, and repent from these divisive things. Prayer, fasting, and denying yourselves these divisive things will be helped by meditating on God’s holy Word.”

E. By self-denial. Denying oneself in Lent means giving up certain luxuries, even legitimate pleasures, in order to focus oneself spiritually.

F. By reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. In Lent, believers are especially called to read and reflect on Scripture in a daily way.

2. We are dust “Many Ash Wednesday liturgies provide an opportunity for worshipers to receive the mark of the cross in ashes on their forehead accompanied by the words, “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” There are many layers of meaning within this simple, powerful ritual. There is the call to remember God created us from the earth (Genesis 2:7). It is by the grace of God that we live and move and have our being and we are inextricably linked to the earth from which we were created.

“There is also the call to remember our connection to the rest of humanity. We are all made from the same “stuff.” We come from dust and we dwell in skin, bone, blood, and cartilage. And there is the call to remember we will return to the earth from whence we came (Genesis 3:19). Ash Wednesday provides us that rarely comfortable, but certainly important opportunity to sit with our own mortality.”

3. Repentance “To repent is to both acknowledge that we have not loved God with our whole heart and we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves AND to make every effort to do things differently. Repentance is about turning away from behavior that is not in alignment with these two great commandments. Rather than something to check off the to-do list, repentance is a practice. Being human means we will never be fully without sin and we will never outgrow the need for God’s forgiveness”

Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22, 7pm service

Although the imposition of ashes is not a sacrament like baptism or the Eucharist, receiving ashes on the forehead on Ash Wednesday is a valuable reminder of several things.  Receiving ashes reminds us that we are created from the earth, and that God’s grace gives us life. Our life is linked to the earth from which we were created.

Receiving ashes reminds us that we are connected the rest of humanity and to all living things. We are ALL made from the earth. We ALL dwell in skin, bone, blood, and cartilage. And we will return to the earth at the end of our lives here on earth. Ashes on our forehead remind us to sit with our own mortality, an important exercise in humility.

Receiving ashes in the Old Testament is a sign of penitence of feeling sorry for our sins. Job repents “in dust and ashes,” and there are other associations of ashes and repentance in Esther, Samuel, Isaiah and Jeremiah.

During the Ash Wednesday service , we will impose ashes on the foreheads of others in our households or place the ashes on our own foreheads if we are alone.

Lent begins Feb. 22, 2023

Lent is a 40 day Christian festival beginning Ash Wednesday and concluding on Easter (Sundays are not counted).  The 40 day fast of Jesus in the wilderness was responsible for the number 40 being chosen .  It was said by Athanasius in 339 AD to be celebrated the world over.

The word “Lent” comes from the old Anglo-Saxon word lengten, which means “springtime,” named so for the time of the year in which it occurs.   The five Lenten Sundays are followed by the Sunday of the Passion, Palm Sunday, which begins Holy Week, when we relive the events of Jesus Christ’s suffering and death.

What we now call Lent was originally a period of fasting and study for catechumens who were to be baptized on the Saturday before Easter.  The purpose of this extended fast was to practice self-denial and humility. This was to prepare oneself for receiving God’s grace and forgiveness in baptism, given on Easter Saturday or Easter Sunday.

The Ash Wednesday service

Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

We began our observation of Jesus’ death and resurrection by preparing for Easter with a season of penitence.   Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent.

The liturgy provides words about the purpose of Lent. “I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”

The service started without music and opening readings and flowed into a collect and readings, followed by the sermon. Examine yourself to see what divides you from others, from the earth and from God, and repent from these divisive things. Prayer, fasting, and denying yourselves these divisive things will be helped by meditating on God’s holy Word.

There is the “Invitation to the Observance of a Holy Lent”. It states that Lent’s purpose over the 40 days is for preparing new members through Holy Baptism and to restore those “had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church.” In a sense it is for the restoration of the Body of Christ, uniting with the new and those who had fallen away.  

The imposition of ashes follows the invitation. At this service, people receive ashes on our foreheads in the shape of a cross to remind us of our mortality, and complete dependence on God for our lives. Only through God’s saving grace can be we be in a relationship with God.   

In the Bible, a mark on the forehead is a symbol of a person’s ownership. By having their foreheads marked with the sign of a cross, this symbolizes that the person belongs to Jesus Christ, who died on a Cross.

Finally there is the saying of Psalm 51 and the Litany of Penance. Pslam 51 is a general plea for purging, new creation and restoration  – “Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.” “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. ” “Give me the joy of your saving help again  and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit”

The Litany is more specific and catalogs our sins:

  • “Our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people,”
  • “Our anger at our own frustration, and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves”
  • “Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts”
  • “Our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to commend the faith that is in us,”

Finally a request to accept our repentence:

“Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done: for our blindness to human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty”

“Therefore we beseech him to grant us true repentance and his Holy Spirit, that those things may please him which we do on this day, and that the rest of our life hereafter may be pure and holy, so that at the last we may come to his eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” 

Ash Wednesday from the Diocese of Atlanta, Bishop Rob Wright – “Under Construction”

“Today by the grace of God we begin again. Today we are marked with ashes to remind ourselves and the world that God sees in all of us more than our worst decision, day or deed. And that because of God’s compassion on display audaciously in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and his spirit at work in us, there is hope for a turn around! That turn around will look like a better, kinder, more forgiving, more just, more generous world. And that world begins with you and I joining God’s purpose more focused than ever before.

“You might say that the ashes that we smear on our forehead today are a sort of construction dust! We are under construction and so are all of our neighbors. But this construction is not a self-help kind of construction. No! In these next weeks we are invited through, worship, study, silence, prayer, service and fasting to put ourselves in the hands of the Master Builder. The God of all the worlds, the lover of our souls and the forgiver of our sins. And so, as your bishop and brother, I call you and all of us to the keeping of a Holy Lent. God bless you!

Art for Ash Wednesday

From the Loyola Press

Commentary is by Daniella Zsupan-Jerome, assistant professor of liturgy, catechesis, and evangelization at Loyola University New Orleans.

Art expresses the key themes of the season – conflict between secular and religious, the forces of temptation and selfishness affecting all of us, the importance of retreat, repentance, and conversion in this season. We have three pieces of art to view these themes thanks to the Loyola press

1. Pieter Brueghel the Elder, “The Fight Between Carnival and Lent,” 1559

Sometimes when the spiritual and the secular clash, we can see the hand of God at work. In Pieter Brueghel’s The Fight Between Carnival and Lent, there is a clash of contrasts happening in this 16th-century Dutch village. Near the center of the hustle and bustle a curious pair is ready to spar: “Carnival,” represented by a well-endowed man riding a barrel, wears a meat-pie hat and is ready for action with a spear loaded with roasted pork. “Lent” faces him, personified by a clear-eyed but gaunt woman on a spare cart, wearing a beehive and holding out two fish on a peel. She is surrounded by loaves, pretzels, and a basket of mussels.

2. Carl Spitzweg, “Ash Wednesday,” 1855–1860

Carl Spitzweg’s “Ash Wednesday” invites us into the Lenten season with a spirit of introspective piety. We meet a downcast carnival clown, seated in the corner of a cell, his head bent, arms crossed, and face in shadows. A clown normally represents revelry, satire, excess, exuberance, letting go of convention, and laughing at life. But here, seated somber in a cell, he offers none of that. Instead, he sits in a nearly empty stone room, the color of ash and arid desert, with only a pitcher of water as provision. Leaving the revelry of Mardi Gras, this clown now dwells in the simplicity of the Lenten season.

3. John Berney Crome, “Great Gale at Yarmouth on Ash Wednesday,” 1836

The main forces in this scene are the waves and the clouds. The clouds, dynamic in their movement, communicate the unseen power of the wind. That wind stirs up the waves that toss the boat on the left and sprays water forcefully against the row of coastal houses on the right. This all brings to mind a battle between nature and the human-made elements of the scene.

Ash Wednesday calls out with urgency: “now is the acceptable time…now is the day of salvation.” Lent calls us to conversion, and conversion without delay. The path to the Easter font, though, is often through turbulent waters. Like the boat in Crome’s painting, we are tossed in the waves of our own desires and follies. Or, like the shore houses on the right, we are assaulted by our temptations and selfishness. Ash Wednesday is the day to face these anew with the belief that the wind is not a threat, but perhaps the breath of the Spirit that seeks to drive away all that keeps us from the fullness of life.