Ash Wednesday

Our years in South Dakota have taught us that the season of Lent can bring almost any kind of weather we can imagine. We’ve had Palm Sunday blizzards and rain and sunny warm weather over the years. So a snow day for Shrove Tuesday didn’t seem all that out of place. The snow started falling on Monday afternoon and continued into the early afternoon on Tuesday. We didn’t have too many errands to run on Monday and so were home before the roads got bad. By Tuesday morning we had nearly a foot of snow. It was the day of a school bond election in Rapid City, so the County plows were out early on Sheridan Lake Road, making sure that the election workers could get to the polls.

Our Subdivision, however, has not yet been plowed. We suspected that we would get this treatment when we were annexed into the city a few years ago. Prior to annexation, the county plows would always get to our subdivision early and we’d be plowed out well before there was any action on the city streets. Now that we are in the city, we get the city snowplow treatment. It isn’t much of a problem for us. We have a good snowblower, so I was able to clear our driveway with about an hour’ work and we took our four-wheel-drive pickup and headed to town where we stopped to say good bye to a family who were leaving on an afternoon flight to go back east, checked things out at the church, made a hospital visit and then voted on our way back home.

In the late afternoon, the snow had stopped falling and a few of the neighborhood children were out sledding on the streets. It was a good day for sledding. The snow had melted and settled and as the cooler temperatures of the late afternoon set in there was plenty of ice for a quick ride down the hill. With an adult lookout posted to keep an eye out for the occasional truck making its way up the hill despite the snow, a good time was being had by the kids and we adults were enjoying talking with our neighbors.

The snow made for low voter turnout for the school election. Less than a quarter of the registered voters turned out and although 56% of those voting were in favor of the bond, it required a 60% majority in order to pass. Debate was fairly intense in the final weeks before he vote with opponents arguing that the plan was incomplete and proponents arguing that year and a half process had invited sufficient public input into the plan. The debate, however, didn’t translate into high voter turnout.

So we begin Lent today in a somber mood for the proponent of the bond issue. They are disappointed and a few are angry that more of their fellow citizens didn’t turn out to vote. They point out that South Dakota is routinely among the lowest states in the nation when it comes to funding schools. Buildings are literally crumbling and crowded.

Ash Wednesday is, for me, a day of remembrance. On this day we remember that our faith is not just about positive emotions, but also involves serious reflection and the willingness to make changes in our behavior. Our faith takes place within the context of our mortal lives. Each of us will one day die. On Ash Wednesday we are reminded of our mortality and of how that fact links us to one another. The worship service for Ash Wednesday isn’t about a lot of words. It is more about what we think and feel than about what we say. We use a few simple symbolic actions to focus our attention as we begin the six-week-long journey of Lent.

Living in the northern hemisphere, we will be experiencing the lengthening of days as we make our journey. Lent and Easter are among the oldest recognitions of the Christian year. Christians were observing Lent very early in the history of the church, before Christmas had been established as a holiday. Among other things, Lent was a season of preparation for the sacrament of baptism. The readings are designed to be an introduction to the Christian faith for those who are unfamiliar with our story. For those of us who have grown up in the church and been a part of its observances for all of our lives, the texts serve as reminders of the basics of our faith and tradition.

This year’s Ash Wednesday observance will be especially meaningful for us because we have an active confirmation class. The confirmands burned last year’s palms a week ago and will participate in leading tonight’s worship service a they prepare for the rite of confirmation and full membership in the church. The class is small, but participants have been fully engaged and their leadership is a true gift to our congregation.

For many years, we have crammed a few Shrove Tuesday elements into our Ash Wednesday recognition. We will begin with a pancake supper before the service. In the contemporary church it just isn’t practical to make two separate events. Attendance at the pancake supper and service would be light regardless of the weather.

We do live in South Dakota, however, so after our little blizzard, the weather is forecast to warm up quickly. I’m sure the snow plow will get to our subdivision today and we could see temperatures in the 50’s by Saturday.

At my age six weeks goes by pretty quickly. Our corner of the church doesn’t emphasize sacrifice in the same way as other parts of Christianity. We remember Jesus’ sacrifice. We try to take a careful look at our own lives and to make meaningful changes. But we aren’t likely to give up little luxuries in which we indulge during the rest of the year. Seeking permanent changes is a higher priority than foregoing little pleasures. So I will probably eat normally during the season and Easter will find me about the same size as I am today.

May your Ash Wednesday and Lent be meaningful times this year.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!