GREEN: Paul Bukovesky warned the local fire department earlier this week that there would be smoke billowing from the parish property at Queen of Heaven.
“I always let them know every year when we will be burning palms to make ashes for Ash Wednesday services because sometimes there is so much smoke that it may look like the place is on fire,” said Bukovesky, the parish custodian. “We have some leftover ashes from past years that can be used, but Father Dave likes fresh ashes each year.”
“Father Dave” — the Rev. David Durkee, the parish pastor — said he follows the tradition of asking parishioners to return to the parish the blessed palm fronds that they received on Palm Sunday of the previous year. Once those are gathered, they are bunched together loosely and set ablaze in a domed fire pit.
“Palm Sunday is the day when people rejoiced at Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. They celebrated his arrival by waving palms. When we wave the palms, we realize that he is entering Jerusalem to die for our sins,” Durkee said. “By using the palms from Palm Sunday, we are reminded that we must not only rejoice in Jesus’ coming but also regret the fact that our sins made it necessary for him to die for us in order to save us.”
When Durkee uses the ashes today to mark the sign of the cross on the foreheads of those attending Ash Wednesday services at 8:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. at Queen of Heaven [1800 Steese Road], he will encourage the receiver to view the outward sign as motivation for “an inward conversion of the heart.” That conversion, he hopes, will take place during the 40-day season of Lent.
Lent, which begins today, is a time of reflection when Christians rededicate themselves to God and a time of preparation for Easter. It commemorates the 40 days that Jesus retreated in the wilderness and is a time when Christians engage in spiritual purification through fasting, prayer, meditation, repentance and almsgiving.
Christians in most Western traditions — Anglican, Catholic, Protestant and others — begin Lent on Ash Wednesday, the seventh Wednesday before Easter, and skip Sundays in counting the 40 days. For many, Lent ends this year on March 30, although in the Roman Catholic tradition, Lent officially ends at sundown on Holy Thursday, with the beginning of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.
Eastern rite Christians do not skip Sundays, and Lent always begins on Clean Monday, the seventh Monday before Easter (March 18). Lent ends on the Friday before Palm Sunday. In the Eastern church, Holy Week is a separate season from the Great Lent. Eastern churches include Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Eastern-rite churches affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church.
Orthodox Christians will celebrate the Resurrection of Christ on May 5, while Western rite Christians will observe Easter on March 31.
Durkee and some other local pastors said they hope that as Christians prepare for the most sacred day on their calendar, they will not only make sacrifices by “giving up something” but will also enhance their spiritual lives by reaching out to those in need.
“It’s not just about giving up but giving out — giving love to others. You can do that by sharing an encouraging word or by just being kind,” Durkee said. “I am hoping that we will all rekindle in ourselves a new fire for loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves.”
Like Durkee, the Rev. Stephanie Lee, pastor at Holy Trinity United Methodist and Centenary United Methodist churches in Akron, will encourage her parishioners to use the 40 days of Lent as a time to connect with God. Lee will lead an Ash Wednesday service at 6:30 p.m. and a Lenten study series at 6:30 p.m. on Thursdays at Centenary, 1310 Superior Ave.
“My prayer will be that people turn back to God in a more authentic, powerful way that will allow them to become more focused spiritually so that they can be more effective in mission — reaching out to others,” Lee said. “I want Centenary and Holy Trinity to emerge from the season of Lent with a new faith. I want the people to catch the vision that God has given so much to us that we need to give back.”
Spiritual awakening and personal renewal for parishioners during Lent is also on the prayer list of the Rev. Neal Sadler, senior pastor at the United Church of Christ, Congregational in Medina, 217 E. Liberty St. The congregation will host a joint Ash Wednesday service at 7 p.m. with First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
“The service will begin as a somber time of reflection and penitence, when we impose ashes. Then, throughout the service, as we hear God’s words of forgiveness, we will move to a time of grace and come to the Lord’s table and receive God’s renewal,” Sadler said. “We come mournful but leave with God’s hope.”
As parishioners move into Lent, with that hope, Sadler said he will offer an opportunity for them to study the Psalms during a 7 p.m. weekly study session on Wednesdays. The series, called “Discovering the Psalms,” is intended to be a tool for exploring a range of emotions from pain to praise.
“In the end, I hope people will discover that we can bring all of our emotions before God and let Him heal us and renew us,” Sadler said. “We want to reinforce for people that God hears us in the midst of all the journeys of life, when we’re happy and everything is going well and when we are frustrated and alone. God is always with us.”
Although the Lenten journey lasts for only 40 days, Sadler, Lee and Durkee will encourage their parishioners to keep the spirit of renewal and hope alive throughout the year.
“Prayer, self-denial and almsgiving are pillars of spiritual renewal. Our lives are enhanced by all three,” Durkee said. “Lent is 40 days, but Easter is forever. We’ve got to have hope at all times and Ash Wednesday is the time to start our yearly reflection on the hope that God will always provide and that goodness will always triumph.”
Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or firstname.lastname@example.org