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Personalize your Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday finds man at prayer

Finding the holy in the midst of our ordinary routines is important every day. It’s particularly significant on Ash Wednesday, February 17, the day that starts the Easter journey in 2021.


United Methodist Communications

Ash Wednesday is an important day in the church calendar. It marks the beginning of Lent, a season of preparation for the celebration of Easter.

This holy day is not a holiday from work, school, or most other obligations. If we are not intentional in our observance, it is likely to resemble any ordinary Wednesday.

To help us find ways to remember the holy in the midst of our routines—something we should strive for every day—we offer some ideas to consider.

  1. Worship                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Many congregations typically offer worship services on Ash Wednesday (which will not be in person for most churches in the U.S. in 2021). Because of COVID, churches are planning some non-traditional observations this year, like the drive-through imposition of ashes or the distribution of tattoos in the shape of an ashen cross.  The somber tone helps us reflect on our own mortality and the need to confess our sins.
  2. Serve                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              On Ash Wednesday, we remember that we are part of the human family, making it a great day to serve others. If possible, find a place to volunteer for the day. Or simply use your lunch hour to hand out sandwiches and sports drinks to the homeless in your city, take an hour to mow shovel the snow from their driveway.
  3. Give                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 We encourage you to give to your congregation, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, or an EngageMI Ministry Partner. Alternately, leave your server an above-and-beyond tip. Find ways to bless others with that which God entrusts you.
  4. Abstain/fast                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Giving something up for Lent” is a common practice for many Christians. Often, we give up a favorite food or try to kick a bad habit during Lent. Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, is when this begins, but don’t confine yourself to food or habits. Can you abstain from gossip or complaining for Ash Wednesday? What about defensive attitudes, fear, or anxiety? You probably won’t be perfect at this, but when these attitudes begin to take hold of your day, pause for prayer.
  5. Pray your day                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Pray for the drivers of the vehicles and fellow mass transit passengers with whom you share your commute. Pray as you pass the hospital, police station, and government offices. Lift up the trash collector and mail carrier. Offer sentence prayers throughout the day, thanking God for your coworkers. Pray for those whose lives have been touched by COVID-19 … for those who have lost loved ones, healthcare workers on the front lines, community leaders organizing testing and vaccination efforts, teachers and students struggling with remote learning. 
  6. Make something                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Some of us reflect and pray best when our hands are busy. Get back in the workshop and spend time cutting, sanding, and gluing. Sit at a piano and let the music flow. Take out the paints, glue, clay, and other supplies to create a work of art. As you create, give thanks to our Creator, who longs to be in a relationship with you.
  7. Be still                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Others find meaning in stillness. Light a candle and pause before the presence of God. Take a holy yoga class. Enjoy a cup of coffee on your deck. Listen for the voice of God.
  8. Clean something                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Ash Wednesday is a good day to get a jump on your spring cleaning. Spend an hour with the junk drawer, that cabinet at work, or organizing the files on your computer. As you remove things you no longer need and reorder those you do, be mindful of the ways God “cleans” us. The Bible tells us, “As far as the east is from the west—that’s how far God has removed our sin from us” (Psalm 103:12, CEB). As we get things in order, we remember that Jesus gave his life so that we might be free from our sins and know new life.
  9. Burn something                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              When you finish cleaning, take some of the papers you no longer need to the fireplace. Light them and watch as they turn to ashes. The ashes in the fireplace are not the same as the ones used in worship but can serve as a similar reminder that your sins are forgiven. As the smoke rises up the chimney, know your prayers are rising to God as well.
  10. Forgive and seek forgiveness                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  As we pray for God’s grace, we should also seek forgiveness from those we have wronged. Ash Wednesday is a great time to go to those you have hurt. It is also a wonderful day to forgive another. Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us” (Matthew 6:12 CEB). Maybe while you are burning those old papers, you might also burn a grudge. If appropriate, let the person know you forgive them. However, remember that forgiveness has much more to do about us than the one who offended us.
The Michigan Conference