Parish Newsletter: Ash Wednesday, by Pastor Karl Weber

This is a newsletter article written by Pastor Karl Weber, author of our posts on Reliability of Scripture, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. If you have written an article for your parish newsletter that you think might be useful to a wider audience, please submit it to us.

 

Greetings in Christ Jesus!

On February 22nd, we have in the Church Calendar, Ash Wednesday. This day marks the beginning of a holy day of fasting and contrition for our sins as we enter the penitential season of Lent. The season of Lent consists of forty days not counting Sundays as we identity with the church of old as she wandered in the wilderness forty years. God decreed they would wander forty years until that unbelieving generation that refused to believe Caleb and Joshua had died in the sands (Num 14:34; 1 Cor 10:4).

What we might not know is that Ash Wednesday is a buffer against “…irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge, …’” (1 Tim 6:20). One example of false knowledge is the theory of Darwinian Evolution. As a matter of fact, if evolutionary thought is consistently followed it is diametrically opposed to Christianity. This little exercise will show this reality.

Darwinian Evolution teaches the Bible is not a science book and therefore the Scriptures are not to be trusted. Now, it certainly is true that the Bible is not a science book; that is why it is not re-written every two or three years. That being said, where the Holy Spirit speaks He speaks truthfully and correctly in all He says. Evolutionists specifically say Genesis, chapters one through eleven are to be called, “pre-history,” and as such are not accurate and nor are they faithful records of history. So, if that be the case, according to Evolutionary theory,

  • Adam and Eve were not historical people, therefore,
  • Satan is not a real person, which means,
  • There was not temptation, which leads to the logically belief that,
  • There was no sin, which means,
  • Death was not the result of sin, which then means,
  • We have no need of a Savior to free us from death, diametrically opposed to what the Holy Spirit says through St. Paul, “… the wages of sin is death…” Rom 6:23.

Darwinian Evolution teaches that death is a good thing and the catalyst for advancement of life, human or otherwise. Nothing could be further from the truth and nothing could be more opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ than Darwinian Evolution; no matter what form it takes. This is an example of what is “falsely called knowledge” (1 Tim 6:20) for it leads us away from our need for Jesus and His life-giving blood shed on Calvary. Jesus came to defeat death through His death on the cross which Evolution wrongly says is necessary for the advancement of life. One can’t have it both ways.

Enter Ash Wednesday, an antidote to Evolution and its deception. The ashes used on Ash Wednesday are from the burned Palm branches of the previous year. Here at St. Paul’s / John’s we obtain ours from CPH.

The ashes smeared on the foreheads of the faithful in the form of a cross signify two things. First, these ashes signify our enemy death. When the pastor smears them upon your forehead he says, “Remember thou are dust, and to dust thou shall return” (Gen 3:19). The dust of death is not the advancement of the human race through the survival of the fittest. The dust of death is the result of our first parent’s departure from Christ and our inherited depravity (Rom 5:12). “In Adam we have all been one, One huge rebellious man; We all have fled that evening voice That sought us as we ran” (LSB # 569:1, In Adam We Have All Been One).

Secondly, the ashes are made in the sign of a cross. The righteous were spared in Ezekiel when they received the “mark,” upon their foreheads. This “mark,” is the last letter of the ancient Hebrew alphabet called “tau.” In the ancient script it was made either in the form of a plus sign “+” , or, in the form or a multiplication sign, an “x”. (See TLSB, p. 1321, study note: Ez 9:4)

The writer to Apocalypse carries this imagery in the third verse of the seventh chapter. And in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism the candidate, prior to the thrice-application of water is marked with the sign of the Holy Cross both upon the forehead and the heart (LSB, p. 268) to signify that this one belongs to Christ. Luther carries this imagery through encouraging the faithful to make the sign of the cross in Morning and Evening Prayer (LSB, p. 327).

In Christ’s death, death has been defeated through His shed blood on Mt. Calvary. Reed Lessing wrote1:

To save people in pain and facing death, God comes in the person of his Servant to suffer, die, and rise again (52:13-53:12). “By his wound we are healed” (53:5). The early church father Theodoret of Cyrus put it this way: “This is a new and strange way of healing: the physician underwent the operation, but the sickly patient obtained the healing.”2

Ash Wednesday is a powerful antidote to what is falsely called knowledge, i.e., Darwinian Evolution. In addition to showing that death came from sin, Ash Wednesday also proclaims loud and clear that our survival is not of the fittest. Our survival has to do with the Fittest having mercy upon us as He carried His cross in our place to Judgment Hall.

There will be a new day of a new heaven and a new earth. It will be seen when the Bride of Christ comes down out of heaven beautifully adorned for her husband (Rev 21:2) for in Baptism her Husband presented her to Himself in splendor, without spot, wrinkle or blemish (Eph 5:27). The old order of things will be no longer. Christ’s victory over death will be seen for what gloriously is all false ideas of knowledge will be exposed for what they are.

So rejoice this season of Lent and specifically on Ash Wednesday. In our sin and decay our God does not abandon us. He cares for us, He takes our illness, our death upon Himself, and He suffers the tortures of the dammed in hell for us, for He is Emmanuel, God with us.

– Pastor Weber

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord, LCMSsermons.com, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at KNFA.net.

Comments

Parish Newsletter: Ash Wednesday, by Pastor Karl Weber — 36 Comments

  1. We had ASH WEDNESDAY as a headline in the Austin paper last Thursday.
    When I recovered, I realized a) it was the sports section and b) they were crediting the UT QB for the Holiday Bowl victory. 🙂

    Seriously, can we have a couple of special Epiphany days, not to mention the 12th day of Christmas, before we get to Lent?

    Thanks in advance!

  2. Preach it, Sistah!

    You don’t dare sing a Christmas song until Advent is completely over — and then you don’t even get to celebrate the Incarnation the full 12 days? Wassup widdat?

    And they wonder why Lutherans have a reputation for prefering Lent to Easter…

  3. @Ted Crandall #2
    You preach it, Brothah! [You’ve got the collar, I think?]

    I’m feeling short of Christmas hymns and carols, too.
    Last night it was “watch & pray” and today we skipped to Anna and Simeon already?
    I have some sermons to read/listen to (today, properly in my book, on the circumcision and Name of Jesus) but they don’t include the hymns.

    [Something about hymnal copyrights and CPH businesshardheadedness? Most of those songs were in the public domain! Changing a few words to ‘copyright’ them makes me mad twice, first that I stumble because the words are not the ones I learned and second because I’m told we can’t record congregational singing of the “alt” version!] Bah, humbug! 🙁

  4. Just switch Lutheran Public Radio on and you will get your Christmas music back. It’s awesome!

  5. [Something about hymnal copyrights and CPH businesshardheadedness? Most of those songs were in the public domain! Changing a few words to ‘copyright’ them makes me mad twice, first that I stumble because the words are not the ones I learned and second because I’m told we can’t record congregational singing of the “alt” version

    Where is Pastor McCain when you need him! I am sure he can fix this little problem
    Faster than you can say Lent.

  6. “I’m told we can’t record congregational singing of the ‘alt’ version!”

    Huh? What?! Who?!?

  7. The reason that some hymns were altered is usually because the originals either had some wrong doctrine, the meanings of words had changed or they were unclear. I think there are some hymns that were altered so they could be included that I think it would have been better to leave out altogether (e.g., the famous Unitarian hymn “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear”).

    If a hymn is copyrighted it doesn’t mean you can’t record it or make it available. It does mean that you need to secure the permission of the copyright holder (which may or may not require the payment of a fee) before you do so. A lot of people don’t want to take the time to do that so they simply refrain from using those hymns other than in the service itself.

  8. OTSJ:
    Thanks! I had it on 3-4 days last weekend; then they played “little drummer boy” and I thought they were going to get lost in the mall! 🙁

    I shouldn’t complain too much; I get to hear CTS Kantorei tonight at St Paul. [Did anybody tell you about it, Rick?] It’s billed as “Choral Evening Prayer” so we’ll see.
    “Nice”, I was told, about last night’s Dallas performance.

    Yes, Stan, and sometimes the Committee thinks they know better than the original author. The next committee not infrequently “puts things back” (and messes with something else). LSB, to be fair, did some “putting back”. (But I think CPH could issue a “blanket permission” to congregations who put their services on line. And yes, I got lectured about “copyright” in nearly every class through 2.5 years of “library school”. The church isn’t selling concert tickets to its on line services; they don’t even include a contributions pitch, [as Tod is doing now].) 🙂

    PS Since somebody mentioned PTM, he’ll be here shortly!

    Us, too, Norm… http://stpaulaustin.org

    Likewise my other “source” http://www.pilgrimlc.org/sermons

  9. It’s not that I don’t appreciate Lent, BTW.
    I just like to “keep things separate”!

    Blessed Christmas to all!

  10. @10 helen :
    (But I think CPH could issue a “blanket permission” to congregations who put their services on line. . .)

    If you contact CPH, I have found that they are usually quite accommodating to non-commercial (dare I use the word “ministerial”) use of their material. They simply cannot offer “blanket permission” because quite a significant amount of the material in LSB is not owned by CPH but used under a license that does not include granting permission to record “performances.” There are even some portions that CPH cannot give permission to reproduce in print form. (Up until last October, I think it was, CPH could not grant permission to reprint the lyrics to “Sent Forth by God’s Blessing.” That agreement changed and it is now included in the standard license for Lutheran Service Builder.) For CPH to presume to grant a blanket license would be like me saying to my parishioners, “Anytime you are in the Chicago area, you can crash at Rev. Tim Rossow’s house.” That is beyond what I have been given to say, and blanket permission to record and broadcast performances of all of the material in LSB is beyond what CPH has been authorized to do by those who gave permission for their songs to be printed in LSB.

    A simple solution for congregations wishing to put their services on the web (which is technically considered “broadcasting”) is to obtain the appropriate blanket broadcasting licenses (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC). There is at least one license broker that specializes in churches. If you average less than 500 in worship, the annual license is $500, and you don’t have to prepare any confusing usage reports. As I understand it, there is almost nothing published that is not covered by ASCAP, BMI and SESAC.

    BTW, churches that broadcast on the radio or television did/do not need to be concerned about this type of licensing because under current (and past) US copyright law, it is the responsibility of the broadcaster/venue to be licensed. This only becomes an issue for webcasting/shut-in recordings because the congregation becomes the broadcaster/publisher responsible for being licensed.

  11. If a congregation has a current Lutheran Service Builder License, it is allowed to print out the liturgies and make recordings available to members, but apparently you’d have to use CDs, DVDs or USB sticks as the license says no dissemination via the Internet is allowed. I would have thought you’d be allowed to put this material in a password-protected area on a web site, but I’d consult an intellectual property rights lawyer before doing that.

    To do the same thing with hymns, you need to buy the hymn license add-on and keep both licenses current. See the documentation for the Lutheran Service Builder at http://cphconnect.org/builder/ .

    If you want to do more than what these blanket licenses allow, the Lutheran Service Builder provides information on the copyright holders and how to contact them. I think this information may be available in the demo version as well, but I haven’t verified that.

    Four hymns were originally excluded from the blanket hymn license, but the Lutheran Service Builder for August 15, 2011, said

    We’re pleased to announce that two LSB hymns have been added to your hymn license:

    LSB 643 – Sent Forth by God’s Blessing (text)
    LSB 845 – Where Charity and Love Prevail (text)

    As far as I know, the following hymns are still excluded from the license:

    Hymn Title Excluded Portion
    462 All the Earth with Joy Is Sounding Tune
    712 Seek Ye First Text and Tune

  12. Christmas would be meaningless without the Cross. Unfortunately, the significance of Ash Wednesday gets lost in this piece because it is incorrectly portrayed as an antidote to “Darwinian Evolution” rather than as antidote to our sinful condition.

    I’d also suggest that, if a person wishes to intelligently challenge the theory of evolution, that person should first understand the theory, even if they do not agree with it. Pastor Weber clearly does not understand the theory because he makes several claims about evolution that are not true. Evolution does not “teach” anything and the theory is silent on the matters of Adam and Eve, sin, Satan, temptation, the connection between sin and death, or the need for a Savior.

  13. #15: “Evolution does not “teach” anything and the theory is silent on the matters of Adam and Eve…”

    Pardon my ignorance, but I thought the Theory of Evolution taught that humans descended from pond scum (via apes), contradicting what Holy Scripture teaches, that humans were created directly by God.

  14. Pardon my ignorance, but I thought the Theory of Evolution taught that humans descended from pond scum (via apes), contradicting what Holy Scripture teaches, that humans were created directly by God.

    Fundamentalist evangelicals have said many peculiar things about what evolution teaches, none of which can be found in a competent science text book.

  15. # 15: “Christmas would be meaningless without the Cross.”

    Certainly. And the Cross would be impossible without Christmas and meaningless without the Resurrection. This is like arguing over which Person of the Holy Trinity is most important. They are inseparable.

  16. Ted Crandall :
    # 15: “Christmas would be meaningless without the Cross.”
    Certainly. And the Cross would be impossible without Christmas and meaningless without the Resurrection. This is like arguing over which Person of the Holy Trinity is most important. They are inseparable.

    Ted – I was just agreeing with the logic of talking about Ash Wednesday during the Christmas season. The liturgical calendar may help us understand the story, but each of the events only make sense in the context of the whole. Apart from the distraction regarding evolution, that’s the central idea that I thought Pastor Weber was trying to make.

  17. Jim Pierce :
    @Johan Bergest #17
    Do you agree that modern day evolutionary theory postulates that all life on earth evolved from a common ancestor 3.7 billion years ago and, that repeated speciation explains the diversity of life on the planet?

    Jim – I agree that some people have offered a variety of postulates based on the theory of evolution. I said that “if a person wishes to intelligently challenge the theory of evolution, that person should first understand the theory, even if they do not agree with it.” If you understand the theory, you also understand that there is a critical difference between “theory” and “postulates”.

    I also said, “Evolution does not “teach” anything and the theory is silent on the matters of Adam and Eve, sin, Satan, temptation, the connection between sin and death, or the need for a Savior.”

    I would agree that some folks challenge basic Christian teachings based on science, including the theory of evolution. I’d suggest that those folks also do not understand either the theory or the limitations of science. Science is bound by the Creation. It can and does describe the product of God’s handiwork. It cannot describe the moment of the Creation and it cannot speak to matters that preceded the event. Science can challenge Bishop Usher’s dating of the events recorded in Genesis, but there is nothing canonical about Usher’s ideas. Science has nothing to say about Satan, temptation, sin and salvation.

    I believe that God gave us the Scriptures to reveal to us His plan of salvation for sinful people. We understand that message by faith. We do not understand the message by our own reason. Science can say nothing to challenge it.

  18. I make the ashes for Ash Wednesday… It’s part of my personal preparation for it. It’s become meaningful for me to do this.

    Here’s how:

    •Save about 20 small palm fronds from Palm Sunday… they’ll get really dry

    •Break the leaves off and crinkle them up…. discard stems

    •Put crinkled leaves in heavy foil pouch with a few holes poked in the top.

    •Put them on your grill until smoke stops coming out of the holes (20 min or so)

    •take the ashes and crush to fine powder in a mortar and pestle or with back of spoon. If they do not crush fine, they have not been burnt long enough.

    •Mix and add olive oil into the ashes..drop by drop…. until you have the desired adherence.

  19. @Rev. Michael Trask #22

    I have found that if the fronds are placed in a 350 oven for about 30 min they will burn completely to ashes. Even if the fronds appear dry there may be enough moisture to prevent complete combustion. Do you actually ignite the fronds, or do you merely char them in the foil package?

  20. Johan Bergest :

    If you understand the theory, you also understand that there is a critical difference between “theory” and “postulates”.

    Indeed there is a difference! But don’t say that too loudly amongst those who take evolution to be a “fact.” They don’t understand the difference. 🙂

    Thanks for your follow up.

  21. @Jim Pierce
    Agreed, and here’s another one. The Universal Theory of Gravity is often taught in schools as a “fact,” when in fact it is not even a good theory.

  22. I guess it’s time for my annual comment on the imposition of ashes.

    The first year I was a member of an LCMS church, I assisted my pastor in making ashes from the previous year’s Palm Sunday palm fronds. Even in (dry) Southern California, the fronds retained enough moisture that it was hard to get them to burn.

    During a subsequent vacancy (September 2003-June 2004), we were not able to find a pastor to conduct an Ash Wednesday service for us and I traveled about 20 miles to Holy Trinity in Hacienda Heights where I was surprised to learn that Pr. Cwirla does not impose ashes on his congregation. He explains why at http://blog.higherthings.org/wcwirla/article/2543.html . For a few years after this, I allowed my pastor to impose ashes on my forehead but I immediately washed them off after the service, mindful of Matt. 6:16.

    For the past several years I have chosen not to have ashes imposed on my forehead at all. I have yet to see any definitive information on when Lutherans started imposing ashes. If anyone knows, I appreciate if he’d share that information here. I think it was a novelty that began sometime in the past 50 years along with other “contemporary worship” practices. In the sermon referenced above, Pr. Cwirla quotes Martin Chemnitz’s negative comments on the practice.

    I appreciate that the LSB lists this as a “may” rubric and that others will see this differently.

  23. @Norm Fisher #29

    Norm, I disagreed with his previous posting as well. Others may well disagree with me, but I did not find his reasoning persuasive. He never explains why, after not imposing ashes for over 4 centuries, they started doing it in the latter half of the 20th century.

    If people want the imposition of ashes, why don’t they do it to themselves and have the pastor wash them off? Symbolically that makes more sense. I note that in all of Pr. Weber’s references to the imposition of ashes they were done by people to themselves and they were an Old Testament practice, not a New Testament one.

    I don’t know if Pr. Weedon imposes ashes on the members of his congregation (I suspect he does, but I do not know that for a fact.) but he wrote, “During the last half of the 20th century, Lutherans have also begun to make use of this ancient rite…” — http://www.stpaullutheranchurchhamel.org/ashwednesday.html (Personally, I wouldn’t call something that didn’t start until the late 12th century an “ancient rite.” I think it’s kind of a novelty, kind of like “contemporary worship” that started even more recently.)

  24. Jim Pierce :

    Johan Bergest :

    If you understand the theory, you also understand that there is a critical difference between “theory” and “postulates”.

    Indeed there is a difference! But don’t say that too loudly amongst those who take evolution to be a “fact.” They don’t understand the difference.
    Thanks for your follow up.

    Well, I take evolution to be fact. And, I do not think evolution is contrary to Luther’s explanation of the First Article. Evolution is nothing more than a description of the creation after the event of creation and a reminder that creation is a continuous process, not just a 6-day event (which is really a Deistic understanding of creation). And, to the larger point, the logic of science cannot describe the Logos of creation.

    It was not my intention to hi-jack this conversation, so I will leave it there with apologies to those who would rather discuss matters related to Ash Wednesday.

  25. # 31: “I do not think evolution is contrary to Luther’s explanation of the First Article. Evolution is …not just a 6-day event”

    Ah, but evolution, as you describe it, is contrary to Luther and the Scriptures. Luther’s explanation presupposed a belief in the Word of God, including all that God says about creation (a 6-day event).

  26. Johan Bergest :
    Well, I take evolution to be fact. And, I do not think evolution is contrary to Luther’s explanation of the First Article. Evolution is nothing more than a description of the creation after the event of creation and a reminder that creation is a continuous process, not just a 6-day event (which is really a Deistic understanding of creation). And, to the larger point, the logic of science cannot describe the Logos of creation.

    Thank you again for the response, but at the risk of “jacking” the thread I want to respond to a couple of your points. First, Creation being a “6-day event” is not, afaik, a “Deistic understanding.” The Deistic philosophers I am familiar with would argue something like God “wound up” the universe much like winding a clock up and then let “tick on” by itself, i.e. after setting up the initial conditions for the start of the universe, God stopped intervening in it. If anything, the theory of evolution is far more compatible with a deistic concept of “God” rather than theism for according to the deist “God” doesn’t intervene in the natural world, “God” simply kicked off the universe and it has been running under natural laws ever since.

    Second, it is my experience that only the most ardent supporters of the theory of evolution would call it a “fact.” Evolution is not a “fact” in the sense that it is verifiable through repeated experience. What I have stated is particularly the case with some causal statements in the theory which are neither observable nor testable.

    Thirdly, and in agreement, science can’t describe “the Logos of creation,” but that is expected since the creation is a supernatural event and science typically only deals with explaining the natural world.

    Following you, I will leave it here so as to not continue hi-jacking the thread.

  27. @Jim Pierce

    Evolution is not a “fact” in the sense that it is verifiable through repeated experience. What I have stated is particularly the case with some causal statements in the theory which are neither observable nor testable.

    Would you agree that speciation (“an evolutionary process by which new biological species arise”) demonstrates that evolution is an observable and verifiable phenomenon?

  28. ” One sacristan tells the story of being literally thrown out of Dr. Nagel’s office for asking him to impose ashes on Ash Wednesday. Far be it from Dr. Nagel to soil a man’s forehead with the Law.”

    From:

    http://thefirstpremise.wordpress.com/2012/01/17/nagel-as-preacher-and-presider-a-personal-reflection/

    My only contact with Dr. Nagel is to hear interviews with him on “Issues, Etc.” and meeting him at the 10th anniversary banquet.

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