A Time to Turn

An excerpt from the Companion to the Book of Common Worship (Geneva Press, 2003, 109-110):

The Lenten journey from the ashes of death to resurrected life begins on the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, which signifies a time to turn around, to change directions, to repent. This first day of Lent reminds us that unless we are willing to die to our old selves, we cannot be raised to new life with Christ. The first step of this journey calls us to acknowledge and confront our mortality, individually and corporately.

In many traditions, this is symbolized through the imposition of ashes — placing a cross on one’s forehead. During the imposition of ashes the words: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return,” (Genesis 3:19), are repeated again and again. We are to remember that we are but temporary creatures, always on the edge of death. On Ash Wednesday, we begin our Lenten trek through the desert toward Easter.

Ashes on the forehead is a sign of our humanity and a reminder of our mortality. Lent is not a matter of being good, and wearing ashes is not to show off one’s faith. The ashes are a reminder to us and our communities of our finite creatureliness. The ashes we wear on our Lenten journey symbolize the dust and broken debris of our lives as well as the reality that eventually each of us will die.

Trusting in the “accomplished fact” of Christ’s resurrection, however, we listen for the Word of God in the time-honored stories of the church’s Lenten journey. We follow Jesus into the wilderness, resist temptation, fast, and proceed “on the way” to Jerusalem and the cross. Our Lenten journey is one of metanoia (“turning around”), of changing directions from self-serving toward the self-giving way of the cross.

Call to Confession (2 Cor. 5:20b-6:10)

On behalf of Christ, we entreat you:
be reconciled to God.
For our sake, God made him to be sin who knew no sin,
so that in Christ we might become the righteousness of God.
For God says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
and on the day of salvation I have helped you.”
See, now is the acceptable time;
see, now is the day of salvation!
With faith and hope, let us confess our sin.

Prayer of Confession (Psalm 51)

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
Create in me a clean heart, O God;
put a new and right spirit within me.

Assurance of Pardon (Isa. 58:1-12)

You shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and God will say, Here I am.
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.

In the name of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven.
Thanks be to God!

Readings for Ash Wednesday

We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, 
“At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” 
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see — we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 1as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything (2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10).

Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21).

Closing Prayer

Spare your people, O Lord. Remember their making. Remember that they are but dust, save for your Spirit placed within them. Speak your Word once more in Holy Spirit that the dry bones of our dusty lives might rise with renewed vigor to proclaim your praise, now and forevermore. Through Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

Benediction

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace (Numbers 6:24-26).

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