Once again, as the season of Lent begins, and we are summoned by a gracious and merciful God in the midst of a worldwide pandemic.
People: Let us be open to God’s steadfast love, calling us into this solemn gathering.
We approach God in reverence and wonder, rejoicing in the invitation to create holy places in our lives.
People: Let us walk humbly before God with disciplines, in prayer and fasting and giving.
We seek the One who grants us life, upholding us with a deep desire to know and love us.
: Invitation to a Holy Lent
The holy season of Lent begins today. More than ever, we need each other—each other’s faith, each other’s presence, each other’s compassion. 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 to find Jesus in our midst, so that we can follow him and orient ourselves toward God and toward 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. Today, 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. 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.
Holy God, our lives are open before you. Rescue us from the chaos of sin and brokenness, through the death of your Son, bring us healing, and in his resurrection, make us whole, for we wait upon you.
Officiant 2: Prayer (Holding our ashes if you have them)
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.
Officiant 1: Remember, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Holy One, I will live this Lent in total trust, for in life and in death I belong to you.
Readings and Responses
Officiant 2: Ashes, a sign of creation
Now we acknowledge that we are creatures, wonderfully made. In receiving ashes, we gratefully honor our earthly origins and our likeness to all other creatures; and we welcome God’
s sovereignty over all that exists. (On your forehead, make the sign of the cross with or without ashes.)
Reading from Genesis 2:4b-9
In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth, and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground—then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground, the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Response from Psalm 8:1, 3-5, 9
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!
Officiant 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. (On your forehead, make the sign of the cross, with or without ashes.)
Reading from Genesis 3:8-13, 17-19
They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” And to the man he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Officiant 2: 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. (On your forehead, make the sign of the cross with or without ashes.)
Reading from Isaiah 58:1-12
Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet day after day they seek me, and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness, and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God. "Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?" Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight, and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, “Here I am.” If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.
Response from Psalm 130:1a-7°
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.
Officiant 2: 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. (On your forehead, make the sign of the cross with or without ashes.)
Reading from Matthew 16:21-26a
Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders, and chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?
What Wondrous Love is This
, vs. 1
Officiant 1: Prayers
Loving Lord, at the beginning of this Lenten season, we are met with the challenge of handing over every bit of our lives that do not come from You. To rid ourselves of what clutters our lives, and all that distracts us from the simple truth of Your love for us.
Your prophets have called us to change the way we worship—to make internal sacrifices instead of external ones. To seek justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with You, each and every one of our days.
We pray for those saddened by the death of someone close to them. Give them your comfort as they cherish their loved ones. Jesus is the light of the world, a light which no darkness can quench. Today, we commend to your everlasting love and care those who have died because of Covid 19, especially Dr. Jill Stroller, Donna Glintz, Libby Fifield, Richard Kinney, the mother of Judy Applebaum, the father of Pamela Underwood. Are there others?
You turn our darkness into light, and in your light shall we see light. May we all come to your eternal transforming joy.
If we don’
t give anything up for Lent, then let us at least give up this: that we might cease living in ways that disconnect us from You, for every one of our steps is like a circle around Your temple. Perhaps this Lent, we can give up our way and give ourselves to Your way for us.
Lead and guide us on this Lenten way. May we follow you, spending each moment of our lives living responsively to You, just as Christ Himself did. for that is the faithful way. Help us to see this time of Lent as an opportunity to develop our discipleship and discipline. Hear our prayers and help us to be aware of what we are asking that our prayers may change us. Amen.
(Adapted from Patrick Ryan, Kuhn Memorial Presbyterian Church in Barboursville, W. VA)
Officiant 1: Let us confess our sins against God and our neighbor
Gracious God, we know and believe You have a heart of mercy. You bring to light things hidden in darkness, and know the shadows of our hearts, yet You are unfailingly with us, confronting us with your love. Help us unblock those things that prevent us from growing closer to You and following You wherever you may lead. Have mercy on us, and remove from us all habits that lead to a heart of stone. Kindle in us the fire of your love, so that we may nurture a heart of tenderness for You, our neighbors, and Your creation. Amen
Officiant 1: Almighty God, have mercy upon you, create in us hearts to love, adore, and delight in YOU as we are strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit to follow in Jesus’ Way of Love. (With help from the Anglican Churches of Kenya and Canada)
Officiant 1: Peace
Shared Agape Meal (bring agape food to your zoom table)
Officiant 2: Friends, we have acknowledged before God and in each other’s 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. Let us turn in fellowship to one another at our table of love.
Officiant 2: Out of darkness came light
People: And the power of God was revealed in the running wave and the flowing air, in the quiet earth and the shining stars.
Officiant 2: Out of the dust came life;
People: And the image of God was revealed in the human face and the gentle heart, in the warmth of flesh and the depth of soul.
Officiant 2: Out of justice came freedom
People: And the wisdom of God was revealed in the need to grow, and the will to love, in the chance to know and the power to choose.
Officiant 2: And God looked at the creation and saw that it was good.
Prayer of Adoration
Officiant 2: I will bless the Lord at all times; God’s praise shall continually be in my mouth. (Psalm 34)
People: I will keep on thanking God with constant words of prayer. I will glory in the living God. The humble will hear and be glad!
Officiant 2: Let us pray.
Officiant 2: Gracious and ever-living God, we come before your table with thanksgiving. This is your table, your love table, in which everyone is invited. We celebrate our agape food as it represents our Lord Jesus Christ's love for us. We give thanks for those who harvest the seeds from our mother earth, and the fruits for our drink. We are all one through our Lord Jesus Christ. This love feast is a sign that God loves us, and we love the ever-living Spirit that flows through us. During this time of Lent, when we are reminded that there are dark and beautiful days coming, we ask you to bless us in our darkness, and in our beauty. Let this meal fill us with the goodness of your peace, that we may always be helpful toward the needs of others. We pray this through our crucified and risen Christ, and we give you thanks. Amen
Officiant 2: And now as our Savior Christ has taught us we now pray:
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those
who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
Let each person take a portion of bread and a cup of wine or juice in their hands
(Preacher) - Let us share the feast with each other! Experience the grace of God!
(Officiant 2) - Prayer of Thanksgiving
God of all grace, may we live in expectation and hope, and may the gifts we have received at this table remind us not only of the gift of your Christ, but of your steady presence among us, that we may act faithfully in response to your love. Amen (Adapted from progressivechristianity.org)
Closing Hymn 707
Take my Life and Let it Be