Why Ash Wednesday?
“Ashes have a long history in biblical and church traditions. In Scripture ashes (dust) symbolize frailty or death (Genesis 18:27), sadness or mourning (Esther 4:3), judgment (Lamentations 3:16), and repentance (Jonah 3:6). Some traditions also have considered ash a purifying or cleansing agent” (Rev. Harry Boonstra, “Why Ash Wednesday?” RW 6 & 30, adapted by Rev. Dr. Laura Smit). Because this is a new concept for many, it may be helpful to include an explanation about Ash Wednesday either in the printed bulletin or in a newsletter ahead of the service. My congregation at Covenant Life used portions of Reformed Worship articles by Boonstra and by Smit. The Boonstra articles are available at ReformedWorship.org and the Smit article at worship.calvin.edu (search by author).
“White as Snow” Foreman
Call to Worship
“I Need Thee Every Hour” Hawks, LUYH 322, GtG 735
*Litany and Prayer
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.
And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness (Matthew 3:16–4:1).
We seek to follow you, Jesus. Lead us by your Spirit into a season of preparation and of growing faith. Amen.
— Charles Cotton (Worship Litany). Copyright © 2012 and 2018, The African American Pulpit Inc., owners of The African American Lectionary, all rights reserved. Used by permission.
Most Holy God, be present with us as we begin this journey into Lent. We turn our faces to the cross, just as Jesus did. Lord Jesus Christ, show us again your great compassion, mercy, and love. Take us into your dying and into your resurrection. Holy Spirit of God, we open ourselves to your presence and your voice. Our hearts are open to you. Amen.
1 John 1:5–2:2
“Lord, Have Mercy” Heaslip
Lord, have mercy;
Christ, have mercy;
Lord, have mercy on me.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. . . . Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit (Psalm 51:1, 10–12).
You are invited to kneel if you are able.
Assurance of Pardon
This is the gospel of Christ: “The punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
Imposition of Ashes and Prayers for Healing
No one should feel compelled to come forward for the imposition of ashes out of guilt or a fear of judgment. But you are invited to take part in this embodied practice as a symbol of the reality of today’s words, prayers, and songs so that they might meaningfully take root in our hearts.
You are invited to come forward when ready to an elder in the center who will apply ashes to your forehead.
If you would like an elder to pray for you, simply kneel at the front steps off to the side. You need not say anything; the elder will pray a general prayer. But you may indicate your specific request or ask to be anointed with oil for emotional or physical healing.
2 Corinthians 4:6–10
Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth.
May these ashes be a sign of our mortality and penitence and a reminder that only by your gracious gift are we given everlasting life;
through Jesus Christ our Savior.
— from “An Order of Worship for Ash Wednesday,” Reformed Church Press, 475 Riverside Drive, New York, NY, 10115, USA, All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Please exit in silence for the sake of those remaining to pray.
Note: Congregation is invited to stand in body or spirit during the elements marked with an asterisk (*)
(This service was designed with the contribution of Jill Warners.)
The Digital Library version of this article contains many hyperlinks to additional information and resources. To become a member or add digital library access to your existing subscription go to ReformedWorship.org, email us at info@ReformedWorship.org, or call 1-800-777-7270.