KANSAS – The beginning of Lent is celebrated by Ash Wednesday with it’s history of long-time traditions and ceremonies, but that doesn’t mean new trends do not have a place for the day starting the 40 days leading up to Easter Sunday.
“Millennials wanted something new while the older generations still hold on to the old traditions of Ash Wednesday,” said Kansas Christian Church Pastor Bret Hammond.
Hammond works on planning new ways to present Ash Wednesday to combine contemporary ideas with old traditional ceremonies for his modern worshipers at the small church group meeting Wednesday evenings.
“We are not a traditional congregation. I am finding ways to marry new ideas with old customs” he stated, adding this year is unique because Ash Wednesday was on Feb. 14, Valentine's Day, and Easter Sunday is on April 1, which is April Fool’s Day.
Traditionally, Ash Wednesday is celebrated by the practice of blessing ashes made from the palm branches blessed during the previous year's Palm Sunday. Church goers often place the ashes on their foreheads with the accompaniment of the words, "Repent, and believe in the Gospel" or "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, which is a day of fasting. The important Christian observation originated to mirror the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert and enduring Satan’s temptation.
Hammond said the ashes on the forehead are a reminder the Bible says we are all dust.
“This means we all start the same and end the same,” Hammond said.
However, the ceremony of putting ashes on the forehead is temporary, explained Hammond. Last year he decided to make bookmarks with ashes at the Wednesday night group.
“The traditional ceremony is wonderful and significant, but at the end of the day the ashes are washed away and gone. I wanted to make it a little more of a daily reminder so we created a card with ashes on it,” said Hammond.
The card had the Bible verse Ecclesiastes 3:20, “Remember that you are dust. And dust you shall return.”
The cards were laminated and with a poem on the back as a reminder of the meaning of Lent. The poem began with, “Stop, Listen, Repent.”
Hammond uses the bookmarks in his prayer book and his Bible, while other individuals use the cards in different ways such as magnets on the refrigerator for a daily reminder about repentance and humility.
“I have people tell me they still use their card as a bookmark,” Hammond said. “We are a non traditional crowd so we find something different to do to celebrate Lent.”
Previously, on Ash Wednesday he presented worshipers with clay and asked them work with the cold, hard material to get it warm and pliable. Once the clay was pliable the group formed it into small bowls. Hammond used this as an analogy and said the clay represents humans and when Jesus is in our life worshipers become soft and pliable and can be formed into something functional.
“Hold the clay and think about what does hardness of heart mean to you? How does if feel to God when we are hard of heart,” he said explaining the lesson adding, “Clay gets soft when we work it in your hands, and this is how we want God to soften us.”
Using the small bowls, the group filled the containers with cleansing water. He said that represents Lent as a time for spring cleaning of the soul.
“Just as we will clean our house is preparation for a visit by a special guest, so we take time to examine our lives in preparation for our encounter with the risen Christ at Easter.”
Hammond then asked the rhetorical question, “What is there in our lives that need to be cleaned out if Jesus is going to feel at home with us?”
Next, the worshipers filled the round clay dishes with oil.
“Oil isn’t just used for blessing or cooking. It is also used to quiet squeaking noises,” Hammond said.
Using another analogy, Hammond said, “Oil in the Bible represents the presence of God. When God is with us then we don’t squeak as much…Instead we quiet ourselves in God’s presence.”
He explained the squeaking can be compared to the daily problems and issues in life that Christians often endure.
“Oil in the Bible represents the anointed Holy Spirit,” said Hammond adding, “It’s a reminder of God’s presence. He doesn’t leave us or abandon us. We can trust that he’s with us and where he is there is peace...and we don’t squeak.”
Finally, the bowls were filled with ashes and with the ashes, the group drew small crosses on the back of their hands.
According to Hammond, ashes in some biblical translations read that God gives us beauty for ashes. Ashes are also a sign of Jewish mourning in the Bible.
“The promise of God in Isaiah 61:1-3 is that our story doesn’t end in ashes but it ends in beauty crowned with glory from God,” said Hammond.
He noted it is possible to create something great from the ash waste material such as a beautiful cross on the skin. Ash Wednesday, explained Hammond, is a time for inward thought and contemplation.
“Ash Wednesday and Lent prepares us for the joy of Easter, which is the truth of resurrection,” he said.
By continuing to use nontraditional lessons, Hammond has a goal to influence as many worshipers as possible.
“Our lessons here are very different than other churches. I want to make an impact on individuals,” he said.
Hammond noted the church’s modern congregation is a mixture of worshipers from other denominations and various faith backgrounds therefore he has searched for unique ways to present his sermons and Bible lessons.
“We have inherited worshipers from other faiths, denominations and a wide variety of backgrounds so I try to be accommodating to their traditional needs but include a modern twist to make an impact that goes beyond the church walls,” he said.
The Kansas Christian Church services are 10 a.m. Sundays and Sunday school is before the service at 9 a.m. An adult Bible study is held on Wednesday evenings.
“I want people to realize traditions don’t have to be old and dusty. They can be new again,” Hammond concluded.