NOTE: This order of service is in a straightforward traditional form, nothing fancy or hip; so it will not appeal to everyone, nor be useful in congregations that prefer more laid back styles of worship–although I think its formality is not stuffy, only serious. Note also that this order of service includes communion, which is a fitting beginning to the season of Lent–food for the journey, companionship along the way, the centrality of Jesus, etc.There is, however, no sermon in this service. What ‘sermon’ there is is in the form of brief introductory reflections and commentary throughout the liturgy. I have preferred to let the rituals of Ashes and the Table take center stage instead of the sermon. The service may seem long and wordy at first glance, but without a sermon, it actually runs about 45-50 minutes, depending on how many people receive ashes and communion, how many ministers may be assisting, and how much time is given to the silences that give rhythm to the section, ‘readings and responses.’ Nearly all the ‘words’–intros, readings, communion liturgy, are also fairly brief, and will move smoothly if uninterrupted by unnecessary directions, such as “Now please stand and join me in singing hymn #235,” No verbal directions at all need to be given if everything is clearly marked, and if the worship leaders lead by confident example, gesturing with gentle movement for people to stand or sit if need be.
Assembling for Worship
*Greeting and Introduction
The peace of the Lord be with you always.
And on the whole world, peace!
Friends in Christ:
The holy season of Lent has begun, by God’s grace and mercy. And what a mercy it is to begin this season in this way, together. For now, more than ever, we need each other—each others’ faith, each others’ presence, each others’ compassion. Because Lent is a time of conversion; a time when, with the Spirit’s help, we open ourselves to change. We ask the Spirit to turn our lives around so that they are oriented towards God and towards the good of our neighbor. We contemplate the temptations and suffering of Jesus, and humble ourselves with him, as he travels the way of the cross, bearing in his own body the weight of human grief and need. On Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, we are asked to face without flinching the unyielding realities of human experience—
that we are creatures made from the stuff of earth, beautiful and good in God’s sight;
but that we are not God—we are mortals, and we shall one day die;
that none of us comes to the end of our lives without having contributed something regrettable, of our own making, to the great abyss of suffering;
and that no one comes to the end of life without having been wounded by the sin of another.
Sobered by these things, but not alone, we will make our way through this season with truth and gratitude, until the light of resurrection breaks. Let us begin the journey, then, with Jesus, with each other, and with the whole church everywhere.
*Hymn I want Jesus to walk with me
Readings and Responses
1. Ashes, a sign of creation
Now we acknowledge that we are creatures, wonderfully-made. In receiving ashes, we gratefully honor our earthy origins and our likeness to all other creatures; and we welcome God’s sovereignty over all that exits.
Reading Genesis 2:4b-9
*Response From Psalm 8
O Lord, our God, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
When I look to the heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars you established—
what are human beings that you are mindful of us?
mortals that you care for us?
Yet you have made us only a little less than divine
and crowned us with glory and honor.
O Lord, our God, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
2. Ashes, a sign of mortality
Now we acknowledge that we are discontented creatures; we fall into to estrangement and alienation. We confess too that we are finite creatures, and we will one day die. In receiving ashes, we express our trust that in life and in death, by divine mercy, we shall always be safe in God.
Reading Genesis 3:8-13, 17-19
*Response Hymn By gracious powers
3. Ashes, a sign of repentance
Now we acknowledge that we sin, and that we are much-sinned-against; we need forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation. In receiving ashes, we ask God to change our hearts, to make us and others whole, and to help us offer reconciliation in this world.
Reading Isaiah 58:1-12
*Response From Psalm 130
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord
Lord hear my voice!
Be attentive to my supplication!
If you should count our sins against us, Lord, who could stand?
But with you is forgiveness, so that you may be revered.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits for God,
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the dawn.
Hope in the Lord forever,
for with God is steadfast love and power to save.
4. Ashes in the sign of the Cross
Now we acknowledge that Jesus freely chose a life of service that led him to lay down his life in love. In receiving ashes, we humbly follow his Way, and commit ourselves to love kindness, mercy and justice as he did, even if it means laying down our own lives.
Reading Matthew 16:21-26a
*Response Hymn What wondrous love is this?
The Ritual of Ashes
Blessing of the Ashes
Bless by your Holy Spirit, O God, these ashes, this dust of the earth. May all who receive them, and all who look upon them, be moved to repentance and renewal, for their own sakes and for the sake of the suffering world. May these ashes be no empty sign; but by your mercy, may all who bear them live what they signify—your steadfast love for our mortal flesh, your power to save, and your boundless mercy. Praise to you, Holy One! In life and death we belong to you.
The Sign of Ashes
If you wish to receive ashes, please come forward. As ashes are placed on your forehead, a minister will address you with one of the following admonitions:
Remember, [name], that you were made from the earth in the image of God.
Remember, [name], that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
[Name], repent and believe the Good News!
During the distribution of ashes, there may be a choir anthem (e. g., Senzeni Na?) or suitable Ash Wednesday/Lenten hymns of Taize chants may be sung.
Hymn These I lay down, insert [Chalice Hymnal]
Please remain seated for the hymn.
L: Friends, we have acknowledged before God and in each others’ presence that we depend on God for our lives, that we are sorry for our sins, that we long to be reconciled in the peace of Christ, and that we are ready to turn around and walk in a new way of love. Come now to the table of Jesus, where he presides, our gracious host. Come to the table of Jesus, where he calls us and where he waits for us, eager to heal us, to persuade us of his love, to welcome us with an unconditional welcome. Come to the table of Jesus, where he feeds his friends with wonderful gifts. Come to this table, from which we always arise with a blessing, no longer strangers, not even guests, but children all alike of our merciful God—children safe at home.
Thanksgiving and Praise
Holy God, we thank you for the gift of life, for time to turn around, and for your steadfast love. Most of all we thank you for Jesus, our teacher, savior and friend, who made his way through this life, delighting you and serving us. We rewarded his tenderness and truth with derision and a cruel death; and he loved us still: “Forgive them,” he said to you, “They do not know what they are doing.”
Words of Institution
And we remember that on the bleak night of betrayal, he gathered his friends. Even with his betrayer beside him, he was grateful to you for life and all the gifts of this earth. He blessed and broke the bread, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, broken for you. Eat it and remember me.’
And when supper was over,
he took a cup filled with wine, and blessed it.
He gave it to them saying,
‘Take this and drink it,
it is my life-blood poured out for you
so that sins may be forgiven.
And then he said, “When you do these things together, remember me.”
Prayer to the Holy Spirit
Come Holy Spirit, bless these gifts that earth has given and human hands have made.
By our eating and drinking,
fill us with the joy of Christ
and keep us persevering in his way,
honoring our bodies,
serving our neighbor,
and praising your name.
The Lord’s Prayer
Sharing the Meal
Communion should be by intinction if possible. During the distribution of the elements, there may be a choir song, suitable congregational hymns or chants, or instrumental music only.
Let us give thanks.
Thank you, God,
for life in the Spirit of Jesus,
for gladness in this bread and cup,
for love that cannot die,
for peace the world cannot give,
for joy in the company of friends,
for the splendors of creation,
and for the mission of justice you have made our own.
Give us the fruits of this holy communion:
oneness of heart, love for neighbors,
forgiveness of enemies,
the will to serve you every day,
and life that never ends.
In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
*Hymn How firm a foundation
Blessing, Sending, and Peace
*Blessing (Cf. Isaiah 61:1-4)
The Spirit of the Lord is upon you,
because the Lord has anointed you;
God is sending you to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim a season of God’s favor,
to comfort all who mourn—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
gladness instead of sorrow,
a mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
And you will be called oaks of righteousness,
the plantings of the Lord to display God’s glory.
You shall build up the ancient devastation,
repair the ruined cities,
and heal the despair of many generations.
And I shall greatly rejoice in the Lord;
for God has clothed me in garments of salvation,
and covered me with a robe of righteousness!
As the earth brings forth its shoots,
so God will cause justice and praise
to spring up before all nations!
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord!
Thanks be to God!
Now share with each other a sign of Christ’s peace!
The people share the peace and depart.
* All who are able may stand.
The people’s parts are in bold.