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Drive-thru Ash Wednesday–Convenience or Capriciousness?

 Wednesday morning on the news there was a blurb about a Cincinnati church conducting a “Drive-thru Ash Wednesday.”  Apparently, if you are too busy to attend church service or intimidated by going inside you could drive through and get your forehead ashed, thereby still participating in the ritual. The Drive-thru “service” conducted in the church parking lot at Mt. Healthy United Methodist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, includes ashes on your forehead, a church brochure and a Lenten booklet.

According to a number of news sources I checked this convenient “ashes to go” idea isn’t new. Express Ash Wednesday services have been conducted by Ashes on the Go,  a St. Louis based organization, since 2007, and a number of churches across the United States are offering express ashes in train, stations, in front of churches and other public places. The reasoning many clerics give for this don’t-break-a-sweat service is to take the ritual to people who don’t have the time or wouldn’t come to the service for one reason or another.

I’m all for convenience, and I’m all for taking the gospel to the world, but this seems a bit over the line for me. What’s next? Drive-thru Easter services or drive-thru Christmas Eve services? Or maybe it will be drive-thru baptisms where we all go through the church lawn sprinklers, or drive-thru Sunday services where we get coffee and a copy of a Bible verse and a prayer tossed into the car window.

Ash Wednesday, which signals the beginning of Lent, is meant to mark a day of repentance and the beginning of the 46 days before Easter. The ashes placed upon believers’ foreheads are a sign of mourning and repentance to God.  During Lent it’s common for believers to give up something for the 46 days before Easter as a sacrifice to show their penitence to God.

My church doesn’t celebrate Lent like the churches that hold Ash Wednesday services, nor do we give up something for Lent. But I certainly understand the purpose of these rituals. The whole Lenten season is about preparation for sacrifice. Believers are supposed to remember what Christ sacrificed for us sinners. Putting the sacredness of a season, meant as a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice, right up there (or perhaps down there) with the class of a pony keg drive-thru is not something I would want to answer for in glory.

The something-is-better-than-nothing attitude that seems to be attached to this drive-thru idea would insult most of us it if were being applied to us. We don’t want others to give us second best and we certainly don’t want God to give us second best, even if we do deserve it.

If Christ could give His life for us then don’t you think He deserves more than a drive-thru in a parking lot or a pass-by on the streets as a reminder? I know I think so.

How do you feel about Drive Thru Ash Wednesday?

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