Ash Wednesday Worship Guide

We aren’t in a sanctuary this year, but thankfully our God does not solely dwell in such places. Make an effort to prepare your space and take the time to focus on Christ this Ash Wednesday.

What is Ash Wednesday?

Forty days (plus Sundays) before Easter we enter a season of preparation. We are to reflect as we ready ourselves for the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, but we do so remembering what preceded that joyful morning.

Traditionally we receive ashes on our forehead, reminding us of our own mortality and death. These ashes call to mind that from dust we were made, and to dust we will return (Genesis 2:7, 3:19).

Why make a time of reflecting on mortality a part of worship?

You may wonder why do this? Why focus on death with Easter just around the corner? Can’t we focus on the positives? Just the chipper, upbeat parts of our faith?

We need these times to face death. Humanity has a tragic tendency toward death. Not just that we are mortal and will die, but in our sin we engage in behavior that furthers death in our world. So since death is present in this world, the church must know how to respond. How do we grapple with it? Understand it? Accept it? Confront it? And shouldn’t our worship do something to shape our response?

Emphasizing this need for worship to be an experience that forms us, Matthew Kaemingk of Fuller Seminary, wrote this:

Those people sitting in the pews are not simply vague and abstract “worshippers.” Within twenty-four hours, they will enter a divided and traumatized polis serving as teachers and lawyers, doctors and managers, activists and academics, police officers and politicians. These worshipping citizens need songs, prayers, and postures that they can bring with them into dark and divided spaces, liturgical rhythms that will stick with them as an ever-present reminder that God’s justice, hope, and healing is more real than the darkness that surrounds.

That article was published on Ash Wednesday, February 14, 2018. That same day there was a school shooting in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where seventeen people were killed. You may remember this image:

A woman bearing the cross from an Ash Wednesday service now having to face the harsh darkness prevalent in the world. This is why we can’t gloss over our mortality and why we have a service like this.

Our times of worship cannot serve to disconnect us from the world; to remind us of fairy tales that do not touch reality. Worship reminds us of what is real. Our God tells us the truth of what we will face, he prepares us with hope and strength not our own, and he sends us to work for his kingdom.

We are dust. We are mortal. But the one who formed us out of dust has promised to reform us, when our perishable body will put on the imperishable, and the mortal will put on immortality. For there is victory over death in Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Corinthians 15:53-57).

A Time of Prayer and Confession

We may know this truth, but too often we live out lies. We act like the world is full of heroes, ourselves included, who have no failings or blemishes. Then when we are confronted by our failings, we struggle.

So let us confess over and again our sin and our need for God to be our provider. Let us acknowledge and know intimately our mortality and how our world is fallen. Let us then unite around that truth, recognizing our shortcomings, looking with hope to the grace of God.

Let us pray this together, from St. Ambrose:

O Lord, who hast mercy upon all,
take away from me my sins,
and mercifully kindle in me
the fire of thy Holy Spirit.
Take away from me the heart of stone,
and give me a heart of flesh,
a heart to love and adore Thee,
a heart to delight in Thee,
to follow and enjoy Thee, for Christ’s sake, Amen

And let us confess to our merciful God with this prayer taken from the Book of Common Worship

God of mercy,
you sent Jesus Christ to seek and save the lost.
We confess that we have strayed from you
and turned aside from your way.
We are misled by pride,
for we see ourselves pure when we are stained,
and great when we are small.
We have failed in love,
neglected justice,
and ignored your truth.

Have mercy, O God, and forgive our sin.
Return us to paths of righteousness
through Jesus Christ, our Savior.

Here is a song to aid in worship and lead us to further confession, “Lord, Have Mercy” by Matt Papa.

Humbly Look to Receive Everything from Christ

As we reflect on our mortality in this season of Lent, we are to become humble. We are brought low in God’s presence. The goal is not shame or defeat. Rather humility is to give us a posture where we can and will receive all we need from God.

When we can say we are mortal and frail, that we are guilty and deserving death, we then humbly look up and see Christ on the cross. He took on the weakness of our flesh and took all our burdens, so we can receive all we need in him. Humbled we learn to depend on him alone.

Let us now listen to a song that captures this so well. A song called “All I Have is Christ”, by Jordan Kauflin.

For a people who have lost much, and will face more loss, let us confess this enduring truth:
Hallelujah, all I have is Christ

And this truth is not spoken bitterly, but proclaimed joyfully for such a possession is all we need.
Hallelujah, all I have is Christ

For a mortal people surrounded by death, let us confess this good news:
Hallelujah, Jesus is my life.

And not for this life alone does Jesus save, but forever.
Hallelujah, Jesus is my life.


Receive this benediction from Romans 15:

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.