Feb 15

Ash Wednesday (Year B)

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

  • God calls us home – back to God’s own self.  Welcome to the Lenten journey, folks… This is what it is all about.
  • I am particularly drawn to the phrase “rend your hearts and not your clothing.”  We read about people tearing their clothing out of anguish, demonstrating in a dramatic, outward fashion just how deeply moved they are.  However, we can all probably think of people who put on a great show – demonstrating regret, begging for forgiveness – only to go on and repeat the regrettable actions again and again.  Rend your hearts… Make a change that matters.  You cannot continue to wear clothing that you have ripped to shreds.  Rend your hearts so that you will need to get a new one.
  • For a hands-on Prayer of Confession, have the congregation write their “confessions” on paper hearts.  Then, after reading this passage, invite everyone to rend their hearts.  Collect the broken pieces as an offering.  As the Declaration of Forgiveness, distribute card-stock hearts that have a reference to Psalm 51 written on them.

Isaiah 58:1-12

  • Lent is a time when many people choose to fast from something (chocolate, meat, etc.).  This passage from Isaiah serves as an important reminder that if we are going to fast, we should do something that really matters.  God probably couldn’t care less if I give up eating my favorite candy bar for 40 days (though, I’m sure that my waistline would appreciate it).  God wants us to fast from things like injustice and self-righteousness — things that are way harder to fast from than chocolate.
  • What would happen if the Church were to really fast from participating in hate speech or the blame game?  Can you imagine what it could look like if Christians fasted from self-righteousness and finger-wagging?  I wonder, sometimes, if the Kingdom could really be that close.

Psalm 51:1-17

  • I know that Ash Wednesday typically involves the imposition of ashes.  And, I know that “ashes” are even mentioned in the reading from Isaiah.  But, I don’t think we can ignore all of the beautiful imagery and references to “washing” and “cleaning” that are found in the Psalm passage.
  • Why not wash the ashes off as part of the service?  The imposition of ashes reminds us of our mortality (“You are dust, and to dust you will return”).  The waters of baptism remind us of resurrection and new life.
  • Here are some ways you could do this:
    • Have the congregation receive ashes as they enter the worship space.  Then, following the reading & proclamation, invite the congregation forward to have the ashes “washed” away using a clean, DRY washcloth.  This could be done as people come forward to receive communion, too.
    • Have the congregation receive ashes during the worship service (I suggest around the liturgy of the Prayer of Confession).  Following the reading & proclamation, invite the congregation to “wash” the ashes off of each other by passing around a clean, DRY washcloth (*I had originally suggested using a wet washcloth, but it was brought to my attention that it can be unsafe to do so – therefore I urge using a dry cloth or olive oil, as suggested in the comments*).
  • The baptismal font should be visible, preferably with fresh water in it.

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

  • The theme that runs through all of the scripture lessons for Ash Wednesday is “be reconciled to God”.  This is truly what defines our Lenten journey: reconciliation.
  • What does it mean to “not accept the grace of God in vain”?  Could it be demonstrated by not putting any obstacle in the way of another person?  How would that look?

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

  • As soon as I read the first verse of this passage, I thought: here’s another reason to wash away the ashes during the worship service.  If we put on the ashes of Ash Wednesday so we can go to work and feel good about ourselves (looking down at those without ashes, since clearly this means that they didn’t drag themselves to a 6:30am worship service to get them)…they we are completely missing the point of Ash Wednesday (and this passage of scripture).
  • After you wash off the ashes (if you do), consider anointing with oil.
  • This passage presents a challenge to all of us: if you choose to fast during Lent, don’t make a big deal about it.  No complaining that we can only eat fish on Friday (if that’s your thing), and no wailing as they pass around the chocolate cake at the office (if you’re fasting from chocolate or sweets).  The only one who needs to know about the fast is God.


1 ping

  1. karyn fisher

    Itis important that you do not recommend washing ashes off with water as the combination can cause a caustic chemical reation – ashes should be removed with a bit of oil, i.e. olive oil.

    1. Amy Loving

      After doing some further checking on this, I agree… I suggest just using a clean, DRY cloth to gently wipe the ashes away during worship. Thanks for the tip!!!

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