When you can’t get your ASH in church…


Ash Wednesday is a solemn day of prayer that begins the season of Lent. The tradition of Lent dates to the 3rd century AD. On this first day of Lent we confess our sin in a litany of repentance (Psalm 51), and during the season’s 40 days we are invited to carry out the Lenten disciplines: fasting, prayer, and works of love and charity (alms). These Lenten disciplines are tools of discipleship that can lead us to renewal as we bury all that is holding us back from being truly alive.

While Ash Wednesday’s immediate subjects may be sin and death, the liturgy of the day also relates to baptism, mercy, and the feast of the resurrection. On Ash Wednesday we are honest about the depths of our sin because God’s mercy and power are deeper and wider. We call to mind our own inevitable deaths so that we might, even now, share in the life of the resurrection. We fast and give alms even as we share Christ’s feast in which, through the overflowing goodness of God, there is enough for all. Ash Wednesday tries to put sin and separation from God into perspective by holding them in the context of the richness and relative shortness of life.

The central ritual action of Ash Wednesday, receiving a cross on our foreheads with ash, echoes our anointing with oil at baptism and reminds us of our mortality. Returning to God’s mercy and grace and marked with the cross of Christ, we make our way through Lent marked with a promise for the journey that leads to Easter and resurrection. 


Most holy and merciful God,
we confess to you and to one another,
and before the whole company of heaven,
that we have sinned by our fault,
by our own fault,
by our own most grievous fault,
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done and by what we have left undone.

Restore us, O God, and let your anger depart from us.
Hear us, O God, for your mercy is great.


Let us pray.
Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth.  May these ashes be a sign of our mortality and penitence, reminding us that only by the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ are we given eternal life; through the same Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

You may mark the forehead of each person with a cross of ashes, saying:
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

A Blessing for Ash Wednesday
By Jan Richardson

All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners

or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—

Did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?

This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.

This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.

This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made,
and the stars that blaze
in our bones,
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.


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