Wednesday Worship Pieces: Ash Wednesday

**You can find a more recent Ash Wednesday service here.

Next Wednesday, March 9, is Ash Wednesday.  Here is the service I have put together for my congregation.  As always, feel free to use any of this material and adapt it for your own context.  I always appreciate a note from those who find my liturgies helpful.

Ash Wednesday Worship, 2011


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. And tonight, 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 tonight’s 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 tonight 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: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17


Imposition of Ashes

Hymn: Abide with me (v. 1-2) [#653 in the Mennonite Hymnal]

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]

Hymn of Confession: The sacrifice you accept, O God (Text from Psalm 51) [#141 in the Mennonite Hymnal]


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: 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10


Scripture Reading: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21


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 [#353 in the Mennonite Hymnal]

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

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

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


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.

– – – – – – – – –

You can find information on our church’s family-friendly Ash Wednesday service here. 

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39 thoughts on “Wednesday Worship Pieces: Ash Wednesday

  1. We will be using much of your service ideas in our Ash Wednesday Worship service at Kingsley UMC, Kingsley, Iowa. Thank you for the wonderful manner of worship. May God continue to bless you.

    • Thanks for the note. I’m so glad you are able to use some of this worship material. Blessings to you and the congregation at Kingsley UMC. (I graduated from a United Methodist college–Emory & Henry. Wonderful school!)

  2. Thank you for this insight on For ASH Wednesday . This coming March 9th… I will attempt to offer friends and neighbors the Homily at my Chapel at Dignity Los Angeles” I pray that our Lord and the Holy Spirit bless me with the right words….and that they come to from my heart where I always carry Jesus Christ.

  3. Thanks for the service. As a Baptist, the help in arranging a meaningful service is appreciated. I am planning to incorporate parts of it in our worship service at 1st Baptist, Corning, NY.

    • Rev. Kirk, blessings to you and your congregation in New York. I don’t recall ever attending an Ash Wednesday service in the Baptist churches I grew up in. Glad to know the tradition is changing–at least some places.

  4. Thanks Joanna for your insightful prayers in the Ash Wednesday Worship. We will be using the prayers at Brighton Uniting Church in South Australia.

    • Oooo . . . I don’t suppose Brighton Uniting Church would care to pay my airfare so I can come and lead the prayers 🙂 I’ve always wanted to go to Australia. Blessings as you begin the Lenten journey.

      • Well … I’m afraid that the current budget doesn’t include airfares. Sorry! If you ever do get to South Australia, please look us up.
        And, so you know, we used the prayers very well on Wednesday night. I replaced the song you had in the Prayer for Guidance with the Taize song “O Lord, hear my prayer”, and that worked well.
        Blessings on your work

  5. I very much appreciate your insight in the Word of God and enjoy the liturgy you have written. I will be using your God given thoughts this evening as we prepare our hearts for this great journey with Christ.
    Thank you and may God continue to Bless you.

  6. You probably didn’t attend any in the Baptist churches. They are becoming increasingly present in the church calendars though. Blessings on you and your ministry.

  7. Thank you, Kathy for your beautiful liturgy… Used many “stuffy” ones while in the AF… But wanted something different in my first year back in the civilian parish! Ash Wednesday in DeFuniak Springs, Florida! Have a blessed Holy Season… Grace and Peace! Michael Moore

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  9. Thanks, Joanna. As a fellow Mennonite pastor, it is great to find other creative ideas for Ash Wednesday services and it was pleased to know all the songs you suggest! My well felt drier than usual this year trying to catch up with the season after a nuisance chest cold. I will enjoy adapting your service for worship in our congregation.

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  12. Thank you, Joanna. I have been looking for an Ash Wednesday resource that will lead into our Lenten discussions of the spiritual discipline PRAYER. We will discuss 6 different ways to pray, to reach all ages, and as many learning types as we can. I love how this flows and it will be easily adaptable for our small congregation. Blessings this season.

  13. We are doing our first Ash Wednesday service. I appreciate you sharing what you have done. It has given me ideas that I have included in my service. 🙂 Blessings to you as you start your Lenten season and celebrate Christ!

  14. I was searching for some contemporary prayers for our Ash Wednesday service tomorrow and came across yours….what a refreshing discovery! I am looking forward to sharing these prayers at St. Boniface C of E Church, Birmingham, UK. Thank you for your generous spirit…..

  15. Thank you for allowing all to benefit from your spiritual creativity. I will be hosting a joint United Methodist multi worship Ash Wednesday Service and your words are perfect. God Bless You and Thank you!

  16. Wonderful liturgy, Joanna! I will be using it at my congregational church, St. Luke’s Christian Community Church in Morton Grove, Illinois, tomorrow night. It’s going to be very cold, so I don’t know how many will be there. However–I know the words you wrote will be a blessing to all who attend. They are a blessing for me, just preparing for the service! Thank you so much. @chaplaineliza

  17. Joanna, I look forward to sharing this with the congregation of First United Methodist Church in Landis, NC as we enter into the season of Lent. I appreciate the liturgy and the careful attention to the movement of the spirit in both liturgy and song.

  18. This is a beautiful liturgy and I am planning to use an adapted version of it this year at our Ash Wednesday service at Shepherdsville Christian Church in Shepherdsville, KY. It has been a blessing to find this thank you.

  19. Thank you for this beautiful liturgy. We will be using it this year at First United Methodist Church in Hollidaysburg, PA.

  20. Thank for this! I discovered it online and will be using pieces of it in my PCUSA congregation this evening for our first ever Ash Wednesday service.

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  22. Thank you for this lovely resource. I’ve adapted pieces of it and will be using at Grace United Church of Christ in Uniontown, Ohio. Blessings to you!

  23. I am a new pastor this year and was grateful to find this example of an order of worship for Ash Wednesday. A fellow Mennonite pastor as well! Thank you for your words and work, I often find myself returning to this blog for ideas and inspiration!

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