COCU18C.Ash Wednesday

ash wed image

Walking in the fragility of life
Ash Wednesday and Lent
started and marked
with ashes on the forehead
as a symbol of the fragility of life
Between floods in Australia and landslides in Brazil
In the midst of bomb explosions and gun attacks in Ukraine
We are stunned, silent and mute
by the fragility of life
Natural disasters
humanitarian disaster
separated the living from the dead
The fragility of life
woke us up
life needs to be lived
with sanity. 
(Source: Rev Dr Apwee Ting, Uniting Church in Australia, 2022)

A prayer for Ash Wednesday 2022
God of the dust we were before,
God of the dust we will become,
God of the breath
that has brought this dust to life:
each day contains a miracle
bounded by our mortality.
In this season, we mark ourselves
as creatures dependent on you,
drawn up from a shared earth,
and separated from each other
only by a desire to be more than we are.
May we, who will return to the earth,
use these days to draw closer to you
and to all those who share
this earth, this breath,
this animating love
that can bring even ash to life.
(Source: The Corrymeela Community)

Loving God,
Sometimes we look around the world and we see ash.
In Australia we may see the results of bushfires —
ashen trunks, blackened grass and burnt limbs.
In Ukraine. we see ruined buildings, rubble and wounded people.
In Queensland, we see loss of life and livelihoods, homes and precious items due to floods.
In Tonga, we see the aftermath of volcanic eruption –
the struggle to rebuild, to clean up ash, and provide clean water.
And sometime the ash we see is in our lives.
Broken relationships, lost jobs, lost homes, lost hopes and dreams.
The ashes of grief in the loss of loved ones.
Today we are invited to consider ashes as an entry into a period of contemplation and repentance,
of focus and consideration of the suffering and the faithfulness of Jesus.
We may be marked or mark ourselves with an ashen sign of the cross,
to remember that we are marked by our discipleship and commitment to follow Christ.
And we are reminded that Jesus shared our human journey.
That God in Christ also experienced loss, grief, terror and oppression.
And there is green.
Green shoots from ashen trees.
Compassion, solidarity and rebuilding in times of national and global tragedy.
Caring, sharing and the possibility of healing in our personal tragedies.
In many Christian traditions, the ashes are created from the green leaves of Palm Sunday,
which will return again this year.
The Ash of this day, and the repentance and contemplation of Lent will in time
give way to the vindication and joy of Easter.
But for now, we see ash.
By your Spirit be with us in this Ash Wednesday.
Through Jesus, lead us through the season of Lent.
Inspire us, loving God, to mirror your care and compassion for all,
and seek the way of peace and justice,
when we look around the world and we see ash.
In the name of Christ we pray, Amen.
(Source: Rev Lindsay Cullen, Uniting Church Assembly)

With These Ashes‘…
With these ashes, we remember
What we’re made of, what we’re made of
With these ashes, we remember
We are made of dust
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust
So it has always been
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust
We return again
(Source: Kathy Douglass)
Listen to the Soundfile here.
A PDF of the music: Music.With these ashes (please attribute author)

“Lent is endeavouring to go under the surface…. Sometimes we too, feel our arms, spread for loving, are nailed down. Our legs, connected to the earth and to our centre of creating and loving, are nailed down… Our God is not a superficial God… Lent calls to go down to the heart, to the crucifixion if need be…”
(from a Facebook post)

Creator God, we marvel that we are made from the dust of the earth, intimately connected and uniquely purposed within your creation. Yet we confess that we have polluted this planet with sin and soot, dirtying the world with unclean fuels and burning forests to ash. We have disconnected ourselves from our relationship to this planet; our actions and lifestyle choices have caused hurt to our neighbours near and far.
Lord have mercy.
(Source: adapted from Living Lent)

Pro-tips for new clergy approaching first Ash Wednesday
– if you burned up palm leaves for your ashes, run them through a sieve or a dedicated coffee grinder to properly pulverize them
– make a slurry of ashes and oil before the liturgy. Ashes that are too dry will fall off the forehead and get in people’s eyes.
– The oil doesn’t have to be one of the blessed oils. Simple olive oil or the like will be fine. You can use a little healing oil if there is plenty to be used up, but best not to use Chrism. That’s properly reserved for baptisms.
– use wedges of lemon or lime to wipe your fingers on afterwards. It’ll clean your fingers well. Then dry them on pieces of bread.
– you may feel tempted to rush Psalm 51. After the time spent imposing the ashes it’ll feel like a long psalm. It is. That’s fine. The parishioners are there because they want to feel the weight of the reality of it all. Take the time.
(Source: A Facebook post by Chris Arnold)

On this day we wear the mark of the ashen cross to remind ourselves that stardust is our origin and our destination. We have a responsibility for right living with each other and our Mother Earth. We wear the cross of suffering and pain inflicted by injustice and exploitation. We wear this mark to remember the words and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth so that all may have life and have it to the full. 
Repent is not a popular word and rarely makes it into the friendly game of Scrabble. Yet it is a life giving choice we make if we are to be agents of change and rewrite grace into history. Ash Wednesday calls us to repent of all that is not life giving at the personal and social in our choices. Repentance also demands a change of heart and practice if it is going to be effective.
This is the time to fast from inhumanity and cruelty. This is the time to put our prayer into action and our alms giving into justice making.
Let us be glad for the season of Lent. 
(Source: Tony Robertson, The Holy Irritant)

Out of our ashened lives
when we let go and leave behind all that weighs us down,
God’s Spirit encourages our new life to spring forth.
Let the ashes fall this Lenten tide.
Let us not be afraid to live this cycle of letting go,
so all that is new and unexpected,
may spring up, blossom and grow,
and flourish in the love of Christ.
We are loved, known and cherished.
(Source: Anne Hewitt, Executive Officer/Ecumenical Facilitator SACC)

Imposition of ashes: “Remember that God formed you from the dust of the earth and in God’s hands you shall remain. May this time deepen your faith and love in God.” (Source: Lavender Kelley, Facebook post, RevGalblogPals)

Often the palms from the previous Palm Sunday are burned on this day to be used at the Ash Wednesday services.
Holy God, Jesus rode with pilgrims into Jerusalem, and excited crowds threw branches in His path. These palms have been to us a reminder of his reign all year. Now as we prepare for Lent, and recall, through the work of your Holy Spirit within us, that we have fallen short of your will for us, we have burnt these palms to make ashes that will mark us with the sign of mortality and repentance; and we remember that though “sorrow may spend the night, Joy comes in the morning”, and out of death comes resurrection, through our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
(Source: Jennifer Phillips, posted on Alkula blogsite)

Ash Wednesday service by Joanne Harader, Spacious Faith blogsite
(scroll down to the end for the service reprinted or go direct to Joanne’s website)

Ash Wednesday
So the day comes around again
and we find ourselves surprised
by the truth
that we are mortal
The stuff of dust and ashes.
Our egos and esteem are held up
to the brutal mirror of the finite:
Know that you will end.
The world will continue without you.
And it’s only with our vision so narrowed
that we are again
able to see
all that lies beyond us:
Know that you are not God.
Know that all the things that make heaven and earth
reach way beyond you.
Live today with faith in your humanness
and let that lead you to life.
Welcome to Lent.
(Source: Cheryl Lawrie)

Ash Wednesday
Dust is a good subject for reflection on Ash Wednesday, for dust, symbol of nothingness, can tell us a great deal. The prayer that accompanies the distribution of ashes comes from Genesis (3.19): ‘From the earth you were taken; dust you are and to dust you shall return.’ Dust is the symbol of coming to nothing: it has no content, no form, no shape; it blows away, the empty, indifferent, colourless, aimless, unstable booty of senseless change, to be found everywhere and at home nowhere. And scripture is right. We are dust. We are always in the process of dying. We are the only beings who know about this, know that we are bound for death, know that we are dust. Through our practical experience we come to realise that we are dust. Scripture tells us that we are like the grass in the field, like an empty puff of air. We are creatures of drifting perplexity. Despair is always threatening us and our optimism is a way of numbing bleak anxiety. Dust is what we are.
It is difficult for us to avoid hating ourselves. The reason why we cast our enemies down into the dust, tread them into dust, make them eat the dust, is because we are in despair about ourselves. What we cannot stand in others is what makes us despair about ourselves.
Dust has an inner relationship, if not an essential identity with the concept of ‘flesh’. Flesh certainly designates in the Old and New Testaments the whole human person. It designates us precisely in our basic otherness to God, in our frailty, our weakness, our separation from God, which is manifested in sin and death. The two assertions, ‘we are dust’ and ‘we are flesh’ are, then, more or less essentially similar assertions.
But the good news of salvation rings out: ‘The Word became flesh.’ God himself has strewn his own head with the dust of the earth. He has fallen on his face upon the earth, which with evil greed drank up his tears and his blood. We can say to God exactly what is said to us: ‘Remember that you are dust, and in death you shall return to dust.’ We can tell him what he told us in Paradise, because he has become what we are after Paradise. He has become flesh, flesh that suffers even unto death, transitory, fleeting, unstable, dust.
Ever since that moment, the sentence of terrifying judgement, ‘dust you are,’ is changed for people of faith and love. With the dust of the earth we trace on our foreheads the sign of the cross, so that what we are in reality can be made perceptible in a sign: people of death, people of redemption. ‘Dust you are’: the judgement still has a mysterious and shocking sense. The old sense is not abolished. But it descends with Christ into the dust of the earth, where it becomes an upward motion, an ascent above the highest heaven. ‘Remember that you are dust.’ In these words we are told everything that we are: nothingness that is filled with eternity; death that teems with life; futility that redeems; dust that is God’s life for ever.
(Source: Karl Rahner, from The Eternal Year, Burns & Oates, London, 1964)

Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are deeply part of God’s creation. We are made of dust, formed from the soil of the Earth. And like all mortal creatures we will one day return to dust. So we share a great kinship with all living things, and with all of creation. We are tied together both by the dirt we come from and the dust we will return to. May this spark in us a greater compassion and care for all of creation, today and all days. Amen.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the day that we remember we come from the earth and shall return to the earth. Everything is connected. We live as part of creation, not above or separate from it. It isn’t just about personal sin and death, but a reminder that our lives are linked in love as part of God’s joyful ecology of beginnings and endings.
(Source: Diana Butler Bass)

I’ve got ashes on my forehead and I’m trying hard to learn
This dust that I have started from is where I shall return.
(Source: Jonathan Rundman, ‘Ashes‘, from the album Sound Theology)

Wonderful Ash Wednesday sermon by Jennifer Henry here, posted on Ched Myers blogsite.

The practice of putting ashes on worshippers’ foreheads on Ash Wednesday is a symbol of cleansing. In ancient times when soap was yet to be invented, ashes were used to remove dirt. Thus, receiving these ashes on one’s forehead carries with it a firmed resolve to transform and remove the dirt from one’s soul.
(Source: Rev. Luna L. Dingayan)

God, we are marked with ashes,
symbols of repentant hearts
and contrite spirits.
We come to be made new,
to learn to love you with our
hearts and minds and spirits.
To learn to love our world
with compassion, and caring
and stewardship.
Not denial and sacrifice,
but transformation and freedom.
Let us walk with Christ,
into the wilderness,
and seek to be changed.
Until we become worthy
of your eternal world
of peace and justice
and freedom.
(Source: Christine Sine, Godspace)

Blessing the Dust
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.
(Source: Jan Richardson, from Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons)

Observance of Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of a time of introspection and turning back to our connection with the Sacred.   Letting go of atonement theology allows us move the emphasis from our personal unworthiness to our personal sense of who we are.  As Jung once wrote, “He who looks outside, dreams.  He who looks inside, awakens.”
(Source: Ash Wednesday, Progressive Christianity)

Ash Wednesday is the day many Christians mark as the first day of Lent, the time of reflection and penitence leading up to Easter Sunday. Clergy all over the world dispense ashes, usually made by burning the palm fronds distributed on last year’s Palm Sunday, making the sign of the cross on the bowed foreheads before them. As they “impose” or “dispense” the ashes, the pastor or priest reminds each Christian of Genesis 3:19: “For dust you are and to dust you shall return.”
It isn’t intended to be a downer. It’s supposed to be a reminder that our lives are short and we must live them to the fullest. OK, maybe it’s a little bit of a downer — that verse from Genesis is what God said to Adam and Eve when he expelled them from the Garden of Eden for their sins. But there’s a big party the night before Ash Wednesday. That’s Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday,” a secular observance that evolved out of “Shrove Tuesday,” the last hurrah – usually marked by eating of pancakes or other sinfully sweet foods – before the solemnity and penance of Lent set in.
(Source: Sojourners)

Fun fact: Lent is actually longer than 40 days. There are 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter, but most churches don’t count the Sundays as part of Lent.

It used to be true that Catholics made up the lion’s share of people celebrating Ash Wednesday. But today, most “liturgical churches” — those with a regular, calendar-based liturgy, or set of rituals and observances — mark the day, including Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and other Protestants.

There is no mention of Ash Wednesday in the Bible. But there is a tradition of donning ashes as a sign of penitence that predates Jesus. In the Old Testament, Job repents “in dust and ashes,” and there are other associations of ashes and repentance in Esther, Samuel, Isaiah and Jeremiah. By the 10th century, the monk Aelfric tied the practice, which dates to the eighth century, to the period before Easter, writing, “Now let us do this little at the beginning of our Lent that we strew ashes upon our heads to signify that we ought to repent of our sins during the Lenten fast.” By the 11th century, the practice was widespread throughout the church — until Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer, threw the practice out in the 16th century because it was not biblically based. There’s no Lent in the Bible, either, though many Christians see it as an imitation of the 40 days Jesus spent fasting and battling with Satan in the desert.
No one is required to keep the ashes on his or her face after the ritual. But some Christians choose to, perhaps as a reminder to themselves that they are mortal and fallible, while others may choose to leave them on as a witness to their faith in the hope others will ask about them and open a door to sharing their faith.

Just a thought……
In some monastic communities, monks go up to receive the ashes barefoot.  Going barefoot is a joyous thing.  It is good to feel the floor or the earth under your feet.  It is good when the whole church is silent, filled with the hush of people walking without shoes.  One wonders why we wear such things as shoes anyway.  Prayer is so much more meaningful without them.  It would be good to take them off in church all the time.  But perhaps this might appear quixotic to those who have forgotten such elementary satisfactions.  Someone might catch cold at the mere thought of it.
(Source: Thomas Merton)

Blessed are you, God of all creation,
Blessed are you, Christ one, Word and redemption,
You created everything, including our being.
It is written that we are formed from the dust of the earth.
And it is said that we are all made of star-stuff –
the ash of the Universe.
May we humbly listen anew to your call of grace.
As we journey to the cross,
May we receive these ashes,
May they be a sign for us;
An opening of a time of reflection,
As we think upon who we are and how we live;
At the start of the road towards Easter,
Breathe into us again the breath of life,
Mark us with your purpose,
That we might bear your light and love into the world.
As an anointing of blessing.
(source: Jon Humphries, on Prayers that Unite)

Dust to Dust
Great article here by Barbara Brown Taylor
“The gospel of the day is not about the poverty of flesh so much as it is about the holiness of ashes, which are worthy of all reverence. It was God who decided to breathe on them, after all, God who chose to bring them to life. We are certainly dust and to dust we shall return, but in the meantime our bodies are sources of deep revelation for us. They are how we come to know both great pain and great pleasure. They help us to recognize ourselves in one another. They are how God gets to us, at the most intimate and universal level of all”.
(Source: Barbara Brown Taylor. Read the full article here)

#LentDay1, Ash Wednesday: Matt 6:1-6, 16-21, Jesus and motives.
Welcome to the first day of Lent, often referred to as Ash Wednesday. It occurs exactly 46 days before Easter (40 fasting days not counting Sundays). Many Christian traditions throughout the world observe this day and this season. Ash Wednesday is named after the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads in the sign of the cross as a symbol of repentance from sins and reverence for the example set by Jesus.
Like any tradition it is easy to get caught up with the show of it, and the lure is to lose the true meaning behind it. How many people talk about what they’re giving up? Some make a big show about it, maybe even give daily Instagram updates of how pious they are.
Even in our good intentions, we face the temptation to want to have people look at us, to see how holy we are. Pride is a daily, sneaky animal who has many tricks.
Jesus is ever aware of this and he addresses this issue in today’s reading from Matthew, a traditional reading for Ash Wednesday. Here he names three ways that the Jews of his day practised their faith: through charitable giving, through prayer, and through fasting. He does not suggest that there is anything wrong with these practices. Far from it!
Each section begins with “Whenever you …” Jesus assumes that his hearers will give, and pray, and fast. He corrects not the actions themselves, but his followers’ motives for doing them.
This is why we are called into community, to help keep each other accountable, and to encourage each other along the journey. Remember this passage is in the wider context of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) where Jesus teaches his disciples about an alternative way of living, following his Kingdom. This is in stark contrast to the ways of the selfie world, which is to draw attention to yourself at all costs.
Jesus here, as he often does, joins himself within the prophetic tradition by linking fasting with acts of social justice. They protest fasting when it is associated with injustice. Isaiah denounces fasting when it is accompanied by “serving your own interest…and oppress(ing) all your workers…to quarrel and to strike with a wicked fist.” (See Isaiah 58:2-10)
Such actions are consistent with what Jesus talks about later on in Matthew in the judgement scene (Matthew 25:31-46) – feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, housing the homeless etc.
As we enter into this Lenten period may we intentionally seek to draw closer to God. What keeps us at arm’s length from God? What are our temptations that draw us to focus on our self and not on our Creator? How do we, as in today’s passage, seek to give, pray and fast in a way that honors him, not just gets us more likes. And how do we seek to work for justice and not exploit those around us.
May we all encourage each other on this journey of Gods alternative way of living today, Amen.
(Source: Stephen Barrington on Advent and Lent Prayer Calendar)


greed, envy, worry,
doubt, brokenness, grief:
you take the juices
of our burnt out lives,
pouring them into
the Spirit, setting
the temperature on low
as you gently keep stirring,
you mix in the crumbs
from the Table,
adding a dash of
of the Cup’s nectar,
some sprigs of time,
a couple of hope leaves,
patiently waiting for
the sauce of
to emerge;
almost forgetting the place
where you stored them,
you take the palms you
had gathered up off the road
while the crowd scurried
on towards Calvary,
and with a pair of old scissors,
you slowly snip them up into
smaller pieces,
and when there is
plenty, you strike a match
and set them ablaze, your prayers rising
like incense,
singing a love song, as the ashes
pile up and up, enough
to baptize us in humble
(Source: Thom M. Shuman, 2012)

The Star Within: An alternative Ash Wednesday ritual
The season of Lent calls us to journey along the edge, to anticipate that final trip to Jerusalem.
Lent call us to the cutting edge, when the wheat falls to the ground and new life comes forth.
Lent not only calls us to give up something, but also invites us to participate in the mystery of God-with-us.
By your grace, call us from grief into gladness, despair into hope, estrangement into right relations with each other and with earth.
Meditation (leader)
The Lenten season is traditionally thought to be a time where we are reminded of Jesus’ life and death.  It is a time of self-examination and penance.  In many traditions it is a time when one thinks about what one can do without.  You are being invited to begin this season of Lent in a new way, while maintaining the traditional themes.
We may begin by reflecting on our unity with all that is, by remembering that each of us is part of an immense and continuous creation, a creation which entails the entire universe.  Although we humans are a vital part of this creation, we are by no means the center.  Yet we know that all too often we imagine and act as if we were the center—as if everything were here for us, for us to use for our own purposes, even to use up.
And yet in our hearts we know that we live in and through a complex set of relationships, and that it is our responsibility, as it has been the responsibility of each generations that preceded ours, to bequeath a healthy, fruitful, and beautiful world to all who shall follow.
What does this understanding of connection and responsibility have to do with Lent?
–If we are open to allowing God to expose the places in our hearts that suffer from the illusion that we are separate and apart from creation,
–If we are willing to allow God to bring into the light those places where change is needed, THEN this is the real work of Lent. The real work of Lent is to renew our sense of connection, thus restoring our dignity and calling us back to our selves, to a place where we acknowledge the invitation to choose life and our responsibility to act co-creatively with God.
Divide the circle into three groups of readers for this reading on our cosmological origins.
Group 1:  In the beginning, the energy of silence rested over an infinite horizon of pure nothingness.
Group 2:  The silence lasted for billions of years, stretching across eons that the human mind cannot even remotely comprehend.
Groups 3:  Out of the silence arose the first ripples of sound, vibrations of pure energy that ruptured the tranquil stillness as a single point of raw potential, bearing all matter, all dimension, all energy, and all time:  exploding like a massive fireball.
All:   It was the greatest explosion of all time!
Group 1:  An eruption of infinite energy danced into being.  It had a wild and joyful freedom about it, and like a dance it was richly endowed with coherence, elegance, and creativity.
Group 2:  The universe continued to expand and cool until the first atoms came into being.  The force of gravity joined the cosmic dance; atoms clustered into primordial galaxies.
Group 3:  Giant clouds of hydrogen and helium gases gathered into condensed masses, giving birth to stars!
Group 1:  Generations of stars were born and died, born and died, and then our own star system, the solar system, was formed from a huge cloud of interstellar dust, enriched by the gifts of all those ancestral stars.
Group 2:  Planet Earth condensed out of a cloud that was rich in a diversity of elements.  Each atom of carbon, oxygen, silicon, calcium, and sodium had been given during the explosive death of ancient stars.  These elements, this stuff of stars, included all the chemical elements necessary for the evolution of carbon-based life.
Group 3:  With the appearance of the first bacteria, the cosmic dance reached a more complex level of integration.
Group 1:  Molecules clustered together to form living cells!
Group 2:  Later came the algae, and then fishes began to inhabit the waters!
Group 3:  Thence the journey of life on land and in the sky.  Insects, amphibians, birds, reptiles, and mammals:  all flourished and diversified and elaborated the themes of life.  And now it is our time, too.
All:  This is our story.
Group 1:  The story of our beginning, our cosmology.
Group 2:  Humans were invited to care for the earth…
Group 3:  But often we tried to conquer and subdue it.
All:  The burden is ours to own and bear.
Group 1:  And so we will begin our Lenten Journey this Ash Wednesday.
Group 2:  with an open heart asking the Creator
Group 3:  to show us how to take the daily things of life and see them as sacred.
Group 1:  May God guide us as we perform simple acts of love and prayer,
Group 2:  and real works of reform and renewal.
Group 3:  Let us love deeply the earth which gives us air to breathe, water to drink, and food to sustain us.
Group 1:  May we remember that life is begotten from stardust, radiant in light and heat.
Group 2:  We are all one – all of creation, all that now live, all that have ever lived.
Group 3:  Remember we are stardust, and to stardust we return.
Group 1:  Remember we are connected and to connection we return.
Group 2:  Remember we are part of the great mystery.
All:  Remember we are stardust and to stardust we return.
Reflections (leader)
Ash Wednesday begins a journey of turning back toward God.  It is a day when we look at how self-centered our lives have become, when we acknowledge that we often fall short of what we want to be.  It is a day when we call all of our angers, hatred, and jealousies out from their dark corners and embrace them as part of us.  Lent is also a season of healing.  We open up our lives so that we may see into the depths of our souls.  It is a time of confession.  “Stardust” is not only a reminder of our need for forgiveness but also a reminder of our connection with earth and how we can be an instrument of healing.
Receiving Stardust:
Turn to the person next to you and place glitter on their foreheads, saying: Remember you are stardust, and to stardust you shall return.
Continue around the circle until all have received the stardust.
Receiving the Star: Place a star attached to a ribbon around the neck of the person next to you, saying: Remember you are a star and part of the Mystery.
(Taken from The Great Story,  Plymouth Congregational Church)

Fact: It was estimated that Australians spent a staggering $1 billion on Valentine’s Day gifts in 2018, more than ever before.
(Given the story of St Valentine, one can only ask – why?! How easy it is to lure/manipulate people by commercial propaganda for the sake of making a profit).

Ash Wednesday service by Joanne Harader (Spacious Faith website)
Words about Ash Wednesday and Lent
Ash Wednesday begins the Christian season of Lent. We will spend the coming days journeying with Jesus toward the cross; toward the death that ultimately brings resurrection life. Many of us will spend these coming days practicing a new spiritual discipline or giving up something that seems to be getting in the way of the life we long to live. We come together to mark the beginning of this Lenten journey. We come together to acknowledge our sin, to acknowledge our mortality. We come to glimpse the Christ who offers forgiveness, who offers everlasting life. As part of our worship, the imposition of ashes will be offered. This practice may not be familiar to everyone. Ashes have been used in Christian churches to mark the beginning of Lent since at least the 10th Century, and ashes are mentioned in scripture as a symbol of purification and repentance. We offer the imposition of ashes as a physical reminder of our mortality and sin; an assurance of God’s forgiveness and salvation. After the first scripture reading, those who wish to receive the imposition of ashes will be invited to come forward. For those who come, I will place the mark of ashes on your forehead. If you would prefer me to mark the back of your hand, simply hold your hand out to me. Let us begin our time of worship by focusing our minds and hearts on God’s presence with us. I invite you to relax into a comfortable position and close your eyes as you take a few deep breaths. Let us pray.
Prayer of Releasing
Holy, holy, holy God, We place ourselves in your presence; we rest in the promise of your grace. Our minds and our spirits are cluttered with many thoughts and feelings that threaten to pull our attention away from you. Let us unclench our fists and release these things: We release all that we have done today–whether for good or for ill. We release all that we feel like we should have done today, but did not do. We release all that we need to do tomorrow. We release our fear. We release our anxiety. We release our impatience. We release our pride. All of the thoughts, all of the feelings that pull us away from you, O God, we release. [silence] Fill us now with the joy and the peace of your deep, abiding presence.We offer all of ourselves to you, our One God, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Amen
Scripture Reading
Imposition of Ashes
Hymn: Abide with me (v. 1-2)
Prayer of Confession
O God of life, we confess the ways we turn away from the fullness of life that you offer. [silence]
God of love, we confess the hatred we hold in our hearts. [silence]
God of compassion, we confess our indifference. [silence]
God of justice, we confess that our lives are linked to oppressive systems. [silence]
God of peace, we confess the violent movements of our hearts, the violent realities of our world. [silence]
Holy God, we confess our sins to you. [silence]
Assurance of Pardon
Return to the Lord your God, for God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Turn toward your God in the confidence that, through Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven.
Scripture Reading

Prayer for Guidance
Generous God who fills the earth with abundance – oceans and skies full of water, fields that yield food, flowers and birdsong and beauty of all sorts – may we live with generous hearts, with open hands.
Song: Lord, listen to your children praying
Humble God who became flesh and entered into our humanity – who touched the untouchable, spoke to the outcasts, washed the disciples’ feet – may we live with humble hearts, looking always to the needs of others.
Song: Lord, listen to your children praying
Righteous God who longs for us to be in relationship with you – through sincere prayer, fasting, worship, scripture reading, fellowship – may we love you with all of our hearts, minds, and souls.
Song: Lord, listen to your children praying
Walk with us on this Lenten journey, Lord. Give us eyes to see the path you would have us take. Give us ears to hear the truth you would speak to us. Give us the wisdom to store our treasure with you, so that our hearts may abide in your perfect peace.
Song: Lord, listen to your children praying
Hymn: Abide with me (verses 3-5, 1)
Benediction (From TS Eliot, “East Coker”)
I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

A hymn for Ash Wednesday C: Where Are You, God? We Long to Know
O WALY WALY (“Though I May Speak”)
Where are you, God? We long to know.
At times, our sorrows overflow.
Then others ask the question, too.
“Where is your God?” – they say of you.

We’ve seen the wages of our sin;
we’ve dreamed of things that might have been.
We’ve given in to hate and fear;
we’ve pushed away those you hold dear.

May we put feasts and games aside;
may we tear down the walls of pride.
We’re sorry, Lord! We’ve turned from you!
So now we ask “What can we do?”

Still you are gracious, loving, kind.
We’ll turn around! Now is the time!
These Lenten days, O God, may we
become your blest community.

Biblical References: Joel 2:1-2, 2:12-17; 2 Corinthians 5:20b
Tune: Traditional English melody (“Though I May Speak”)
Text: Copyright © 2019 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.
Email: New Hymns:

Valentine’s Day/Ash Wednesday (2018)
On the surface, the confluence of Valentines and ashes seems to produce an odd and uncomfortable couple, but it’s fitting to have one day of celebrating love in all its forms while also recognizing our mortality.
Love and dust? There’s no better pairing.
The ashes remind us that this phase of life is limited. We lose sight of how much each day is a precious gift. We fail to see the many possibilities for gratitude, celebration, and love that are present in each day. The hearts remind us that love creates us, animates us, and sustains us through our limited days. Love gives us this day and all its possibilities. Love is for everyone we can touch in some way, even strangers a half a world away. Together, the ashes and hearts remind us that we’ve got to decide how we’ll use today. Will we bring more division, pain, and indifference into our world? Or will we choose to do all that we can to make the world more as God would have it? We all must choose.
Lent sharpens our focus on what matters. It challenges us to get re-grounded and find creative ways to bring healing and love to others, especially the marginalized and the needy and the victims of injustice and abuse. Lent prompts us to examine what’s getting in the way of giving and receiving love in our lives. It calls out the insecurities and fears that form walls. It challenges our prejudices and our selfishness.
Above all, it forces us to see injustices and do something about them; to recognize those who are hurting and find a way to help heal them; to reach out to the outcasts and the refugees and embrace them.
We mustn’t waste the daily chances that God provides to make a difference.
Ultimately, Lent encourages us to forge a trail of love through our daily dustiness and to transform our ashy selves with creative acts of kindness and compassion. It reminds us that we are physical beings for now – formed in the elements of stardust – but we’ll always be animated by a breath of life and love that wants to guide us.
So, let’s heed the Valentine/Ash Wednesday reminders. And let’s pray for the faith and the courage to live each day boldly, kindly, and joyfully right up to the day when we exchange our heartbeat for a deeper place in God’s heart, which is love.
(Source: Joe Kay, Sojourners)

What Lent teaches us about real love (Valentine’s Day/Ash Wednesday)
I love that Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday this year. Valentine’s Day – that bane to single people and the unsentimental, the feast day of our culture’s obsession with love and romance – is momentarily subverted by a reminder of what love really looks like: self-denial and commitment. Ash Wednesday in many ways is one of the most passionate and powerful expressions of love – God’s love for us, and our love for God.
Ash Wednesday and Lent, the season of reflection and preparation for Easter, take love to a whole new level. Lent is a season of self-denial, a pushing away of distractions that keep us from enjoying our First Love. My priest likes to say, when imposing ashes, “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return – and remember that you are beloved.” In other words, life is short, and too often our priorities are completely jacked up. And though Lent is a time to mourn the ways we forget God, it is also a time to remember that we are still beloved.
In our human relationships, we would do well to remember the brevity and brutality of life. We won’t always have time to tell say “I love you” before our beloved can never hear it again. We can “stay connected” and always want to make time, but never quite get around to it; we can forget our partners in the tyranny of the urgent, or in the demands of parenthood; we can lose our loved ones far sooner than any of us anticipate.
Valentine’s Day does a great job at communicating love for one day, but it lacks the impetus or mechanism to help us do the hard work of love. And one thing required for the hard work of love is a repudiation of the very things that keep us from loving well. Ash Wednesday, with its accompanying fast, is that repudiation.
Falling in love makes you reprioritize your life. In those first blushes and crushes of human love, we can get butterflies in the pit of our stomachs; we forget to eat or lose our appetites. We can put off good things or even tasks that once seemed necessary and absolute because we cannot tear ourselves away from the object of our affection (eventually, my now-husband and I would go on grocery dates because we really needed food, but we also wanted to be together). We go into “hibernation” when we first fall in love, spending as much time with our beloved as we can.
When our beloved is God, Lent can be that hibernation period to fall in love all over again. God responds to the sin that keeps us from divine relationship, not by punishing us or withdrawing from us, but by wooing us away from other, lesser gods and back to the lover of our souls.
We even receive a special gift on Ash Wednesday. The ashes imposed on our foreheads are a sign of repentance and mourning, showing the severity with which we take our falling short. We are not supposed to display our fasting and repentance in a pious way, but we’re also not supposed to wash them off.
To me, those ashes are a mark and reminder, as deep and personal as jewelry or flowers. Those ashes show that we are loved, and that our beloved’s commitment to us is constant and true, even when we are not. They show that divine Love is not just about feelings or sentiments, but about death to everything that hinders it.
The ashes remind us that the heart of love is laying down one’s rights and one’s life for our beloved. When we first fall in love, we easily let go of things we held dear and thought we couldn’t live without, because we have found something greater. I’ve only been married for nine months, but I can already see how the human heart can snap right back into its worst habits and desires as relationships grow comfortable and familiar. Our beloveds don’t need candy or sentimental gestures. They need the passion and commitment that come from love’s first awakening.
It’s because of the tendency to forget our First Love – to rely on emotions and feelings instead of true sacrifice and commitment – that we need Ash Wednesday this Valentine’s Day. In Jesus, God puts aside everything to make us God’s beloved on the cross. This is not a sentimental gesture. It is a whole-hearted, full-throated commitment. Jesus is all in, and Lent is an invitation for us to join him.
For those who observe, may we be willing and able to say yes.
(Source: Juliet Vedral, Sojourners)

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Rev Sandy Boyce is a Uniting Church in Australia Minister (Deacon). This blog may be a help to people planning worship services.
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