A puppy named Gingerbread was among those to receive an Ash Wednesday blessing thanks to drive-up ashes to-go, provided by Community United Church of Christ.
“Hopefully this will calm her down a little bit,” said Gingerbread’s owner, Jeff Jones, with a chuckle.
It also allowed his wife, Cheryl, who has an injured knee, to receive a blessing without leaving their truck. The Rev. Chris Breedlove reached through the truck’s windows to trace the image of a Christian cross on their foreheads with ashes and to share a blessing.
The message: “Be kind and gracious; life is all too short. From ashes we come, and to ashes we return. The love of God lasts forever.”
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I pray that the whole country can come together.
Jeff Jones after receiving an Ash Wednesday blessing
More than a dozen people – many children on their way to school or adults on their way to work – swung through the parking lot of the northeast Fresno church Wednesday morning for the unconventional blessing.
This is the first year Community United offered to-go ashes along with the traditional evening service. The church added the drive-up option in hopes of sharing “love and hope and grace” with more people. Many who stopped by for a blessing don’t attend the church.
At least one other Fresno church, St. James Episcopal Cathedral, also offered to-go ashes for the first time. Community United provided drive-up ashes again around lunchtime.
Life is too short to be skeptical and mean and cruel, or impatient. This is a miracle, this day – it’s a wonderful miracle.
The Rev. Chris Breedlove, Community United Church of Christ
Ash Wednesday marked the start of the Christian observance of Lent, which precedes Easter.
“It’s a way to help us become intentional about how we will draw close to God in the hope that as we draw close to God, we can draw close to one another – not just our neighbors, our friends and our families, but to draw close to those that we might be tempted to be divisive with, that we might be tempted to judge in an unfair way, to practice empathy and sympathy,” Breedlove said. “The 40 days of Lent, you are working on spiritual disciplines to help you be gracious and kind, like the example of Jesus and so many others.”
Breedlove encourages Christians to add something to their lives – rather than the normal Lenten practice of sacrificing – over the next 40 days.
“Usually we think about giving up chocolate or taking a fast from social media,” Breedlove said, “but I would encourage people to add things in their life that connect them to the community – add volunteer service at the elementary school, at Poverello House, at your local community of faith.”
The Christian cross that Breedlove traced on foreheads for Ash Wednesday reminds him of love’s power to overcome the pain of oppression.
The love of God can break through that, and shine through that smog of indifference and injustice.
The Rev. Chris Breedlove
“I can look to the cross and see someone who suffered with unbelievable poise and grace and kindness in his heart,” Breedlove said, “that despite the cynicism and prejudice and cruelty that he experienced in life, that he still had grace and love for people – even his enemies he prayed for.”
This message was one that Marilyn Wall, administrator of Community United, really wanted to receive. The morning drive-up for ashes allowed Wall to be blessed before the evening church service, which meant a lot to her. She had started her day feeling angry after watching a documentary highlighting violence against unarmed people. Her anger dissipated after Breedlove’s blessing.
“I felt like I needed something at that moment to calm me, and it did,” Wall said. “I felt invigorated.”