Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Remember That Thou Art Dust, and To Dust Thou Shalt Return

The Order for Tonight's Ash Wednesday Service

Words of Adoration
Search us, O Lord. Know our hearts and know the deepest chambers of our spirits. Invite us, as living souls, to enter into the life eternal Christ offers in this and every moment.
Words of Welcome
Welcome to this evening’s Ash Wednesday service.
Lent stretches for forty days from Ash Wednesday until Easter, not counting Sundays. In this season of penitence, the church invites us – individually and communally – to reflect on all that keeps us from full union with God and holy relationships with one another. We hear again the stories of Jesus' ministry and the people he encountered, and we seek like them to be made whole by his touch and his love.
Later in this service, I will ask you, if you feel so moved, to come forward to receive ashes on either your forehead or your hand. The words we use at this imposition are ancient: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” See these words not as harsh judgment for our imperfections, but a humble acknowledgement of our frail humanity, a holy recognition that we are not invincibile, and a devout renunciation of our desire and practice to live as if we were in the place of God. Though we are dust, that is not all that we are. We are also blessed creatures possessed of mighty wonder, passionate power, and daily grace - all gifts from a loving God.

Prayer of Readiness
Leader: Let us pray.
People: God, this is a hard time. The focus of Lent is on the pain and suffering of Jesus and our own need for penitence. It is a time of gathering darkness. But we would rather skip this part and go straight to Easter. We would rather ignore the suffering—in you and in the world—and avoid the hard work of true self-examination. Forgive us for wanting this to be bright and painless and easy, when we know that Jesus did not take the easy way, but chose the path of the Cross. Teach us the true meaning of penitence, so that we use this Lenten season to humbly seek a clean heart and a renewed spirit. We pray in the name Jesus Christ. Amen.

We Hear the Word of God
Scripture Readings:
Hebrew Scriptures ~ Isaiah 58: 1-12
Psalm 51: 1-17
Gospel Lesson ~ Matthew 11: 28-30

Reflection: Power, Need and Brokenness

We Respond to God’s Call
Litany of Confession

Leader: God, from the depths of your creative power you have shaped the world in love and beauty. You have given to human beings the gift of vision, the power of imagination, and the will to do the good.
People: We confess to you, O God, that we have neglected all that you have given us, have squandered our gifts and wasted precious time.
Leader: We have given in to the sin of pride and self-satisfaction, thinking ourselves better than our brothers and sisters. We have lived inauthentic lives, trying to be that which we are not in order that others will not see who we truly are.
People: Have mercy on us, O Lord of all that lives and breathes.
Leader: We have let ourselves be ruled by fear and anxiety rather than faith and hope. We have let the world change us rather than work to change the world.
People: Have mercy upon us, O Lord of all that has been made.
Leader: We have given in to judgmentalism and a lack of grace in our hearts. We let partisan beliefs and divided opinions divide our hearts and our relationships with other.
People: Have mercy upon us, O God of all people and nations.
Leader: We have given in to apathy about the world’s conditions, circling the wagons around ourselves rather than enlarging your welcome to all who have need of you in this and every time.
People: Have mercy upon us, O Author of Days.
Leader: We have been indifferent to the sufferings of others and of the sinful systems that oppress the poor and people of color throughout the world. We have strived for power and glory instead of seeking to follow you humbly.
People: Have mercy upon us, O God of the dirt and the gutter.
Leader: We have treated the earth with disdain, as if it were one more possession to use and throw away. We have not cared for what dwells upon this planet, and we have abused the very things you made in love.
People: Have mercy upon us, O God of earth and air and water and fire.
Leader: O God, hear in our voices and see in our hearts the desire for true repentance, and help us to find the way back to you.
People: Come to us, Lord of our lives, and show us the fullness of your great mercy.

Time of Silence

Receiving of Ashes

Leader: Accomplish in us, O God, the work of your salvation,
People: That we may reflect your light and glory.
Leader: By the life and death and transformation of Jesus Christ,
People: Bring our minds and hearts to such a depth of understanding that we, too, accept the full promise and challenge of your love.

Go now, marked with the sign of Christ's outrageous love, to live as God's humble children in service to our broken and blessed world. And may the Holy Spirit be with you today, tomorrow, and in the life that is to come. Amen and amen.

This service includes elements taken or adapted from traditional sources, the UCC Book of Worship, and

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