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LAMPa staff and ecumenical partners will offer Ashes-to-Go at the state Capitol on Feb. 14 to mark the beginning of Lent.

We will be on the front steps of the Capitol  from 8-9 a.m. and 11 a.m.- 1 p.m. to offer prayer and ashes. Although this is not currently a session day, you may wish to invite your lawmakers and staff who observe but who cannot be in their home congregation on that day.

Why Ashes?

Ash Wednesday is a Christian holy day marking the beginning of the Lenten season. The practice of marking our foreheads with ashes is reminiscent of the ancient practice of showing one’s grief and mourning by wearing sack cloth and sprinkling one’s head with ashes. Ash Wednesday reminds us of our own mortality and launches us into the season of repentance with words that connect us all – “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” In our frail, mortal selves the unending grace of God, and our status also as beloved children of God, is made all the more powerful.

Why at the Capitol?

The great paradox of Ash Wednesday is the Gospel reading assigned for the day is from Matthew 6, beginning with words of warning:  “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them.” The practice of giving and receiving ashes in a place as public as the Pennsylvania State Capitol seems at odds with the words of Jesus, right?

And yet it is a practice done not for the sake of parading our piety, but rather to offer a sacred moment of pause, repentance, and remembrance to those who might not have another moment in their day to hear these words of truth and hope. We go into public spaces with ashes to remind ourselves and others of our connection and our common need for grace.

The Capitol, where the law of the land is made, is a space in need of grace as much as anywhere else. Those who hold power need to be reminded of their humanity, frailty, and connection to others as much as anyone else. So, this practice is not antithetical to Jesus’ words, but rather a way to remind all of our need for Jesus, and to be mindful of Jesus’ words as he ends the Gospel in today’s lectionary – “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” By offering ashes and prayer to those who pass by on the street and those who work in the Capitol, we confess our common need for grace.  We affirm the vocation of those who serve and encourage them to carry the grace and love they receive into their work, so that justice might be achieved for all of God’s beloved.


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