Bring On The Ashes! Despite High Winds, Ash Wednesday Gusts A Whirlwind Turnout

The forty days of Lent ends with Easter Sunday, but begins with Ash Wednesday, this year on March 1.

Even though the March winds were intense, Pastor Daniel (seen here with elder Kate Jacobs) skillfully assured that ashes made direct contact with foreheads.

This continues the church’s annual and very proactive tradition of offering ashes, prayers and blessings outside the church doors.

Mission accomplished: a very receptive and enthusiastic neighborhood nodded “yes, please,” and said amen.

“It was super blustery,” says Old First member Karen Bulthuis, “but wearing the black robes and having them blowing all over the place was kind of lovely. There were lots of folks smiling at us in recognition, whether or not they came up for ashes.”

This unusual but beautiful public display always generates plenty of curiosity.

“There are a lot of questions,” Karen says, “like ‘what do the ashes stand for?’ And ‘what is Ash Wednesday about?’”

For those of you who want to know, read on:

The gesture is symbolic. Lent, by the way, is a period of forty days where Catholics — and some Protestant denominations like ours — practice forms of spiritual discipline and self-denial, most commonly fasting. You could also opt to give up a favorite food or a habit (you shouldn’t be smoking anyway – this is the ideal time to quit).

The idea: practice a quiet repentance, as taught to us in Matthew 6:16-18: “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

The ashes rubbed on your forehead symbolize mortality and repentance. In the Bible, ashes represent purification and sorrow for sins. The palm branches, left over from Palm Sunday, are traditionally burned to produce the ashes for this event.

“We served many more people than ever before,” Daniel says, “several hundred, I would say. We had conversations with curious non-Christians, especially young people, and we gave blessings to some folks who needed prayers. We served truck drivers, nannies, cops — all sorts of passersby.”

Of course, 21st century Ash Wednesday gets a little more “mobile.”

Daniel adds, “Lyft and Uber drivers were pulling over, with Jeff Chu running out onto Seventh Avenue to meet them at their car. I had one truck stop traffic, and the driver said, ‘God thinks they can wait.’ I brought ashes to two bagel shops for the workers, and to the appliance store. People are so grateful for this.”

The Ash Wednesday crew includes our Cecilia Whittaker-Doe (who mixes the ashes every year), Jeff Chu, Jabe Ziino, Daniel Silitonga, Adelheid Duhm, Kate Jacobs, Karen Bulthuis, and Reverend Marc Choi from Resurrection Church.