Ash Wednesday, Lent & Preparing for Easter on Social Media

Ash Wednesday, Lent & Preparing for Easter on Social Media

February 16, 2015 by

From the Ash Wednesday Service, in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, p. 264-265:

Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great
devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and
it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a
season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent provided
a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy
Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of
notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful
were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to
the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation
was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set
forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all
Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the
observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance;
by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and
meditating on God’s holy Word. And, to make a right beginning
of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now
kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.

Tweet that, I dare you.

Truth is? The relationship between Ash Wednesday and social media: well, it’s complicated.

On the one hand, the season of Lent, kicked off by Ash Wednesday, has traditionally been observed through private penitence and fasting. As it says in Matthew 6:16 ESV:

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others.”

Keep it to yourself, then.

On the other hand, the season leading up to Easter also has been a time when those separated from the church were restored to fellowship with the people in the body of Christ, which is inherently a social undertaking.

How about a group hug?

And, lest we forget, we are commissioned to spread the teachings of Jesus Christ to all nations of the world, and Facebook, at 1.39 billion monthly active users is now the largest “country” in the world.

So what’s a faithful penitent to do?

The truth is, anything from this…

Ash Wednesday Selfie

to this…

Ash Wedneday Off Facebook

…is fine. It’s a personal choice. We’re all working out our own salvation with fear and trembling.

So What About Your Church?

First, let’s acknowledge that your church might not observe Ash Wednesday and Lent. A few years ago, I was reminded of this when my daughter was invited to a wacky youth event at a friend’s church on that Wednesday 40 days before Easter. “I’m surprised they would have something like that on Ash Wednesday.” I remarked. “What Wednesday what?” the host replied.

Many churches have only one calendar, and it wasn’t created by Thomas Cranmer. Ash Wednesday might not be familiar to your congregation, but the idea of preparing for Easter is something we can all get behind.

Supporting Lenten Practices on Social Media

Among those parishioners who are using social media, you might find some going #ashtag crazy while others are shutting down social media, along with those who have never really considered how social media can be used to prepare for Easter.

As a church, though, please, I beg you, do not give up social media for Lent. A few years ago, the admin of a small church I’ve “liked” on Facebook announced she was doing a social media fast for Lent.

And the public face of the parish went dark until after Easter.

Many in your community have come to cherish their online relationships—they rejoice when others rejoice, weep when others weep, pray for others and seek their prayers. Nobody should go dark on that.

Because online community is real, and true, and powerful, and important.

And I’m not sure that giving up that community is exactly what the early church had in mind when it encouraged followers to enter into a time of prayer and penitence and alms-giving to prepare for the celebration of the resurrection.

So why not take on Lent, starting with Ash Wednesday, as a time to encourage and celebrate all those things on social media? Have conversations with those in your parish who are most active on social media about how the church family can use social media to invite others to prepare for Easter. Start naming the social media ministry already happening for what it is—ministry.

Just in the last couple of days on social media, in my circle:

  • On Facebook, we were encouraged to bring packages of undies to church to distribute to the homeless. 737 pairs were donated, along with $235.
  • I participated in a lively Tweetchat about the ways church folk can effectively use social media for ministry.
  • A friend posted a pic of her family on Instagram and I was reminded to pray for her husband, who is in treatment for cancer.
  • I shared a video on YouTube of my kid performing in the school play, so grandparents 1500 miles away could feel connected to their only grandson.
  • A friend used Twitter group DM to ask for prayers for his mother.
  • I learned that a friend’s father had died, and watched as a flood of sympathy and love poured over her via social media.

That’s ministry in action.

Go Into All the World

So on Ash Wednesday, one of the few days when local and national media take the opportunity to share images of Christian devotion, we would be wise to consider carefully the role social media plays in our lives, including how we are using digital tools to be the body of Christ.

Take it on as a 40-days-long opportunity to explore ways social media can enhance prayer, penitence and alms-giving in your congregation and community.

I asked the Twittersphere to share their favorite digital lenten resources, and the links below were tweeted my way pretty quickly. Check them out, and add your own in the comments.

And if you need me, you can find me on social media: on Ash Wednesday, during Lent, and on the glorious day of Easter, being a part of the beautiful, messy, imperfect body of Christ in the world.

Lenten links shared with me on on Twitter:

What links can you add in the comments?

Photo by Greg Williams.
Post By:

Carolyn Clement

Carolyn Clement is a volunteer church communicator and vestry member for Trinity Episcopal Church in Tariffville, Conn. By day, she works in compliance and social media in financial services, and in her off-hours is a co-moderator for the weekly church and social media #chsocm tweetchat, a soprano in the church choir, props crafter for local theatre, and is passionate about teaching people how to strengthen relationships and community on social media.
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