COCU18(A,B,C) AshWednesday

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Season of Lent – a season of reflection, and prayer. The Lenten Season offers ‘a window to look through the wonder of your life’. Ash Wednesday takes place 46 days before Easter Sunday and falls on a different date each year, depending on the date of Easter. In 2021, Holy Week begins Sunday 28 March – Palm/Passion Sunday – and ends on Easter Sunday, 4 April.

See also Ash Wednesday 2019

Joel 2: 1-2, 12-17
A proclamation that the Day of the Lord has arrived, with a call for repentance, and a plea for God’s mercy.
or Isaiah 58:1-12
True fasting requires repentance and justice, not just going through the motions.
Psalm 51: 1-17
David’s plea for God to cleanse him after his adultery with Bathsheba is exposed by Nathan the prophet.
2 Cor 5: 20b-6:10
Paul explains the suffering he and other apostles have endured in order to proclaim God’s appeal for repentance, and God’s offer of salvation.
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
The most authentic way to give, fast and pray – Jesus explains the true practice of the Lenten disciplines.

Alternate texts Ash Wednesday service
Amos 5:8-15; Psalm139:7-12; Romans 8:31-35; Luke 18:9-14

Singing from the Lectionary
Wild Goose publications (Iona) – Ash Wednesday (PDF)
Wild Goose publications (Iona) – God of desert places (PDF)
Wild Goose publications (Iona) – Resources for Ash Wednesday (PDF)
Wild Goose publications (Iona) – Ash Wednesday: Imposition of ashes and Communion (PDF)
Wild Goose publications (Iona) – Doorway to the desert (PDF)
Ash Wednesday Commemorative Service 1984 (written after 1983 bushfires)

Remember you are ashes
of dreams unfulfilled
of loves burnt in passion,
of sepia-coated photos in our minds;
remember you are dust
of stars which exploded light-years away,
of words uttered so long ago,
of fears hiding under our bed;
remember you are God’s,
who mixes all the ashes
of our failed promises to be more faithful
more just, more loving,
with the dust we have shaken from our feet,
as we took our own paths
using them to mark
the Godhead on this pilgrimage of trust.
Remember, you are remembered by God
(Source: Thom Shuman)

The last blog post Rachel Held Evans published was “Lent for the Lamenting.” on March 6th, 2019. Ash Wednesday. She was planning to write a series about grieving the loss of faith and she planned resources to discuss and share. In the post she writes “It strikes me today that the liturgy of Ash Wednesday teaches something that nearly everyone can agree on. Whether you are part of a church or not, whether you believe today or your doubt, whether you are a Christian or an atheist or an agnostic or a so-called “none” (whose faith experiences far transcend the limits of that label) you know this truth deep in your bones: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.”
(posted on Rachel Held Evans Legacy)

Christine Sine – leading into Lent
As I have done for the last few years, I have gathered my Palm Sunday crosses from last year, added a few post it notes on which I have written what I hope to see transformed during Lent and then burnt them. This year I chose to burn them in my Australian themed contemplative garden which I created earlier in the year when the Australian bushfires were at their height. It was a powerful reflective ritual as I not only remembered my own need for transformation but was reminded once again of the devastation done by the fires and the need for renewal in the bush of Australia.
(Source: Christine Sine, Godspacelight)

God formed a human from the dust of the ground,
and breathed into their nostrils the breath of life;
and they became a living being
—Genesis 2.7

You are dust and breath,
matter and energy,
earth and Spirit.
Neither alone:
their need for each other,
their love of each other.
God is the love, the dance,
both wedded.
That’s what makes us human.
Return to the bothness.
God, to be true to our dust,
true to our breath,
your breath, your dust,
your bothness, your usness.
Give our love flesh,
our dust breath,
our death life.
Give our us you,
so we may give you
our us.
(Source: Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Unfolding Light)

Jesus come and save us.
We are marked with ashes,
We are but dust,
Only you can change our unclean souls.
Bring us to repentance,
Wash away the scars,
Plant seeds in the desert,
Bring life where death once reigned.
Cleanse us with the water of life.
Transform us God of all.
Restore our sight,
Renew our planet,
Teach us truth.
Speak words that bring wholeness,
To us,
To our communities,
To the earth our island home.
(Source: Christine Sine, Godspacelight)

A 2020 Ash Wednesday Resource by Jon Humphries
This year, as we prepare to enter into the season of Lent, we recognise that many in our communities, have suffered hardship and loss in recent times, and for many that comes on top of a significant time of hardship. We are inspired by the care and response offered by so many in compassion, giving so much, even their lives, in the service of others. In fact, the struggles continue here in Australia, but also in communities across the world who continue to not only face the challenges of chronic issues such as poverty and conflict, but we have also faced significant health challenges as well. Lent is a time to re-centre ourselves in faith and discipleship as we prepare to honour and celebrate the love God brought to its fullness in the culmination of the life of Jesus in his death and resurrection which we call Easter.

A call to worship
Present with us in all things,
In all places,
In all circumstances,
Standing with us as Christ,
Guiding and leading and comforting us as Spirit,
We acknowledge that you are with us here, now.
Thank you for your goodness.
Thank you for your compassion.
Thank you that you are at work for good in the world.
We give you praise,
For you are the one we place our faith in to lead us in life.
We look to you as our God and confess that we are your people.
We love you with our heart, mind, strength and soul,
Today we stand at the threshold the Season of Lent,
Present with us in all things,
In all places,
In all circumstances,
Standing with us as Christ,
Guiding and leading and comforting us as Spirit,
May we step out in faith,
And take up the work of the season,
That we might learn anew how to love and serve others,
Especially in the shadow of this year’s hardships.
This we therefore pray.
(Source: Jon Humphries)

A 2020 Lenten Litany
With us as Christ,
Present as Spirit,
In times of drought
Be with us
In the flames
Be with us
In the ashes
Be with us
In our struggles
Be with us
In times of recovery
Be with us
In times of replenishment
Be with us
In healing
Be with us
In hope
Be with us
In faith
Be with us
In our service
Be with us
In our flaws and failings
Be with us
We are the stuff of the stars
And the work of your creation
From the ash of the beginning of universe you raised us
And in the fullness of time ash we will return to.
Be with us, God.
As we mark ourselves today,
With the sign of the cross made in ash,
We remember your call to love.
We re-centre ourselves in your call to discipleship.
Be with us, God,
As we commit ourselves today,
With the sign of the cross in made in ash,
We look to take up our cross anew,
And enter into reflection on the depth of you love for us,
The teaching you brought as the Word as Christ,
The witness and example of Jesus to your nature,
And the grace and redemption you reveal in your cross and resurrection.
Be with us God
Lead us anew in your way,
Away from sin and sadness,
Into the joy of discipleship,
That we might come to know you deeper
And follow you more closely as your people.
Be with us God,
We pray. Amen

(Source: Jon Humphries)

Prayer of the people
God with us,
This year has raised so many challenges already,
and we are just at the start.
So many have faced struggles and suffering.
Even, those who have watched as onlookers,
Have felt the effect of such devastation.
For all those who are dealing with loss
We pray
For all those who are facing uncertainty,
We pray
For all who are finding it hard to find hope
We pray
For those who are embarking on long journeys of recovery
We pray
For all who need healing
We pray
For all those who need support
We pray
God with us,
Awaken our compassion,
That our prayer stays not just on our lips
That it just doesn’t just lie in our hearts
But that we might take up the Lenten discipline of love
And seek to follow you in love into the world,
Discipling others not only in word,
But also witnessing to you in care and service.
May we be agents of your mission
Joining you in your work
As we wear the sign of your cross on our foreheads,
And seek to follow in your way.
In faith we pray,
(Source: Jon Humphries)

Imposition of the Ashes (Thom Shuman)
Our ancestors in the faith
used ashes as a sign of our repentance,
a symbol of the uncertainty and fragility
of human life.
Like them,
we have tasted the ashes of hopelessness;
we have walked through the ashes of our loss and pain;
we have stood knee-deep in the ashes of our brokenness.
God of our lives, out of the dust of creation
you have formed us and given us life.
May these ashes not only be a sign
of our repentance and death,
but reminders that by your gift of grace
in Jesus Christ, our Redeemer,
we are granted life forever with you. Amen.
(A period of silence will follow. Those who wish to do so, may come forward to have the sign of the cross placed on their foreheads or hands. The ashes are from palm branches used at Palm Sunday services in the past,mixed with oil).
(Source: Thom Shuman, Lectionary Liturgies)

Reflection: Counting the cost of Australia’s summer of dread
The world has never seen anything like it. Over five months, bushfires along the south-east coast of Australia have blackened an area bigger than Ireland. They have taken 34 lives, destroyed thousands of homes, shrouded cities in toxic smoke and devastated the country’s unique wildlife. They have also changed how many Australians think about the climate crisis. What was, for many, an abstract idea set in a distant future has, in the space of one summer, begun to feel like a dystopian everyday reality. As leading researchers have observed, Australia is now “ground zero” in an unfolding catastrophe.

Reflection: Ash Wednesday is not the final story by Andy Hamilton SJ
In 2020 it is hard to think of Ash Wednesday (26 February) without also seeing the burned houses and forests and the charred bodies of animals left after the bushfires.
The 1983 Ash Wednesday fires, which took many lives and for many people are still a pain-filled memory, also remind us that the bushfire season is not yet over. For Australian Christians, Ash Wednesday and faith are nailed together, reminding us that faith, as with summer, must reckon with matters of life and death. Our hopes, and the things that give us confidence and standing, are always at risk of turning to ashes.
The ashes of Ash Wednesday have a long history.
In the Scriptures ashes represent grief and a life stripped of complacency, comfort and resources. Ashes went with wearing clothing made of rough hessian in a dramatic sign of desperate grief and the abandonment of vanity and pretentions.
To cover ourselves with ash leaves us exposed, without any of the adornments that indicate importance, physical beauty or wealth. We are our naked selves in all our poverty stripped of our appearances, as we stand before God, like a burned out forest devoid of the green grasses, trees, birds, animals and other forms of life that make it countryside.
As with bushfires, the ash of Ash Wednesday is not the full or the final story.
Rains will come, seeds will germinate, ferns, bushes and trees will grow, birds and animals will return. Much will be lost, some species irrevocably, but life itself will continue. We grieve what has been lost but are encouraged by signs of new life. And we may hope against hope that out of the fire will come the human conversion needed to address climate change.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent that culminates in Easter, the celebration of Christ’s rising from the dead. In the Christian story it marks the triumphant end of God’s journey with us in Jesus. From being born naked into the world, sharing our lives simply and unpretentiously, and being stripped naked of dignity, of reputation, of clothing and of life itself, he rose from the dead clothed in life, and promises us life with him. For us, too, ashes and grief are not the full story. The main story is that of God’s love for us in our nakedness, a love that will take us through fire to greening.
Ash Wednesday makes a claim on us as we face bushfires. It reminds us that we need to strip ourselves of care for reputation, of pretentions and of greed and face the stark and naked reality of our world with all the dangers and consequences of global warming.
It cannot be business as usual. Emperors must become accustomed to going unclothed without faking insouciance.
Ash Wednesday invites ordinary people like ourselves to look seriously at our world and ourselves, to hold our leaders to account, and to trust in God and one another.
(Source: Andy Hamilton, 2020)

Reflection: Ash Wednesday and Bushfires
(originally written in 2009, adapted for 2020)
This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the season of Lent. I cannot begin to imagine what it will be like for people to mark Ash Wednesday this year, so soon after the devastating 2019/2020 bushfires.
What emotions and memories will the sight and feel of ashes arouse in those who watched in terror as the fires bore down on them with impossible speed, who heard the roar of the advancing flames and witnessed day turning into night as the sky filled with ash and rained down burning embers, the thousands who fled their homes or waited in fear, expecting to be incinerated, who narrowly escaped the flames, who lost friends and family members, whose homes were reduced to piles of rubble and who, covered in ash from head to foot, searched through the ruins afterwards hoping to salvage some treasured mementoes?
For these people, for the families and friends of those who were killed and injured, for fire fighters, emergency workers, medical personnel, counsellors, forensic experts working to identify fire victims, for all who watched the frightening images on television, the symbol of ashes will evoke feelings of fear, helplessness, destruction, loss, pain, grief, and despair.
In the Hebrew scriptures there are many references to ashes representing human insignificance. Abraham says of himself: “I am dust and ashes” (Gen 18:27). This same understanding is expressed in the familiar phrase ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’. Ashes were also associated with mourning and sorrow. Anyone affected in any way by bushfire knows what it is like to experience feelings of insignificance, powerlessness and mourning.
Natural disasters such as bushfires, however, not only bring death and destruction but also bring out the best in human nature. Out of the tragedy have come numerous tales of bravery, selflessness and compassion – volunteer fire fighters putting their lives on the line, community groups feeding and housing the displaced, people all around Australia donating generously to fund-raising appeals. It is the Easter story, a story of good coming out of evil, of death giving way to new life, of hope in the midst of despair.
As we are signed with ash this Ash Wednesday, our thoughts will be with all those who have been affected in any way by bushfire. We pray that new life will arise from the ashes of their hopes and dreams and that the love of God, the joy of Christ’s presence and the strength of the Holy Spirit will be with them always.
(Source: Elizabeth Harrington, Liturgy Lines)

Ash Wednesday service with Communion (Thom Shuman)
Call to Worship
We gather in the dimness of evening
to be with the God who brightens
the shadows of our lives
We gather in the quiet of this place,
to be with Jesus, knowing that nothing
past, present, or future separates us
We gather to be marked as disciples,
to be fed for the journey through Lent,
to be sealed by the Spirit as God’s own

Evening Prayer
You wait on this evening,
Patient God, for us to come back:
to stop going away from you
on our self-focused travels;
to set aside our empty fears;
to cease shaping you in our image,
so we can discover you closer
than we ever dare imagined.
You wait for us this night,
Companion of our hearts,
for us to follow once more:
leaving the shuttered corners of our lives;
refusing to go from one failed promise to another;
coming out of the panic rooms we have built in our souls,
so you can take us by the hand
to lead us to resurrection life.
You wait in scattered ashes of our lives,
Spirit of silence, for us to find you:
in the broken bread
which strengthens us to serve;
in the cup of grace
which fills our emptiness;
in our sisters and brothers
who are willing to hold us up when we falter,
so you can embrace us
with joy and hope in every moment
As you wait, and as we seek
to return to you in these moments,
we pray as we are taught,
(The Lord’s Prayer)

Invitation to the Lenten life
Not for the first time, yet fresh once more,
we accompany Jesus to Jerusalem.
Because of his experience in the wilderness,
we discover how we might have the strength
to turn our back on evil, so we can choose good.
By his example of fasting and prayer
In the midst of serving and caring for others,
we can learn that rhythm of faithful living
which allows us to work for justice and hope,
as we draw strength from the timeless acts
of silence, feasting on the word, and prayer.
As we remember our baptism into faith,
as we gather at the feast of grace,
as we are marked as Christ’s own,
we prepare ourselves to come to God,
on this holy night.

Call to Reconciliation
On this night, we begin our journey to Easter.
Before we can take the first step, we must admit how we have not been faithful to our God.
Let us pray together, saying,
Unison Prayer for Forgiveness
We have trouble telling the truth, God of broken hearts, yet we must admit on this night how we have trouble being your people. We may not trample the poor, but we sometimes walk right past them. We don’t receive bribes, but we are more privileged than many around us. We trust more in ourselves than in you, and spend far too much time patting ourselves on the back, rather than holding out a hand to others.
Where can we go for forgiveness but to you, God of the ashes? When we are greedy, you promise to be gracious. When we have trouble confronting injustice, you stand at our side. When we struggle to seek good, you point us to Jesus, our Brother, our Savior, who shows us how to turn our back on evil to follow him. Amen.

Silence is kept
Assurance of Pardon
God refuses to stand far off, but comes close to us – to hear our prayers, to touch our hearts with forgiveness, and to walk with us during this holy season and beyond.
We have no need to go anyplace else, but into the comforting and restoring heart of the One who loves us. Thanks be to God. We are forgiven. Amen.
Imposition of the ashes
Just yesterday it seems, the palms were
fresh and green, held tight in hands
as we reenacted Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.
But then they dried, shriveled, became
almost too fragile to touch, until
we burned them into the ashes for tonight.
Yet, by the grace of our God,
with the Spirit resting upon them,
they are mixed with oil and placed
on our heads or hands,
the dust of life resting upon us
as a sign that by sharing the gifts
of peace, reconciliation, justice, and generosity,
we will live into the people we long to become.
As we are touched with this mark,
God of all moments,
remind us that just as you
shaped humanity from earth’s dust,
so, from the ashes of repentance and denial,
that grace which is gifted to us
through Jesus Christ, our Redeemer,
will shape us into faithful followers. Amen.
(In the silence, those who wish may come to have the sign of the cross placed on their foreheads or back of their hands. The ashes are from palm branches used in previous Palm Sunday services, mixed with oil)

Invitation to the Table

The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving
May the God of the ashes be with you.
And also with you.
On this night, let us offer our hearts to God.
We open then so we may be filled with the gifts of Lenten discipleship.
Let us lift glad thanksgiving to our God.
We offer praise to the One who gives us the strength for this journey.
There at the edge of the emptiness of chaos
you spoke, God of all graciousness,
brightening the shadows with lights in the sky,
pouring the waters into rivers and seas,
planting seeds to feed all creatures.
From the dust of creation, you shaped your children,
offering us all the goodness and beauty
which overflowed from your heart,
but we trampled through your hopes,
as we turned from your heart
to chase after evil’s false promises.
But no matter where we went
or how far we sought to flee from you,
you continued to meet us in all those places,
constantly inviting us to return to you
and be filled with your steadfast love
Therefore, we join with our sisters and brothers,
in the silence and shadows of this evening,
to offer you songs of thanksgiving:
Holy, holy, holy are you, God who is at our side.
We join all creation in singing your praises.
Hosanna in the highest
Blessed is the One who makes us right.
Hosanna in the highest

Your constant love is the seal of your holiness,
and Jesus is the One who comes
so we will never be separated from you.
He endured every hardship we experience,
so we receive the hope you offer to us;
he experienced the hunger of loneliness,
so we might become members of your family;
he was willing to set aside his life,
so death would have no power
to keep us apart from you, but
your resurrection power would give us
the same life he received from you
As we take our tentative first steps towards Jerusalem,
as we would be marked as his companions,
we remember that mystery known as faith:
Christ died, not withholding his heart;
Christ was raised, so that he might become our advocate;
Christ will come, to draw us to your side
Here at this Table of life and longing,
pour out your Spirit on us,
and on the gifts offered to us.
May the bread which is broken
strengthen us so nothing can separate us
from those who struggle with life;
from those who mourn a death;
from those who have no power or voice.
May the cup which overflows with grace
nourish us so we pick up
those who have been trampled by misery;
those who are trapped by injustice;
those who are pushed aside by the privileged
And when neither death nor life,
neither time nor history
can keep us apart from you
as you gather us around your Table
with our sisters and brothers,
we will sing your glory and praise forever and ever,
God in Community, Holy in One. Amen.
(Communion is shared)
Smudged this night with the ashes of penitence,
we will go out to share God’s forgiveness
with those we have hurt, with those who are forgotten.
Fed this night by the Host of the Feast of grace,
we will go out to bring healing to the broken,
to offer grace to those trampled by the powerful.
Called this night to journey through suffering to new life
we will go out to stand with those experiencing injustice,
to share the Spirit’s peace and reconciliation with the world.
(Source: © 2017 Thom M. Shuman, Lectionary Liturgies)
Full communion liturgy by Thom Shuman

Bushfires – Australia Summer 2020

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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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