Liturgy by TLW



Ash Wednesday

by The Rev. Thomas L. Weitzel
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

  . See also "Making Ashes for Ash Wednesday."


    The service for Ash Wednesday leads us into the penitential season of Lent -- a season marked by stripping away the non-essential and the unimportant, by listening in quietness to the groaning of all creation as it writhes in sinfulness, by reflecting on our own sinfulness and on God's gift of forgiveness which comes through his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
    We begin the season and this liturgy with a powerful Act of Confession, greatly expanded over our usual briefer confessions: a penitential Psalm, an exhortation to keep the Discipline of Lent in the struggle against sin, a public cataloging of our collective and individual wrong-doings, and the silence of self-examination and renewal. We stand before God with contrite hearts, knowing our weaknesses and failings.
    At this point in most acts of confession, we receive the absolution of forgiveness. Instead, tonight we hear the words: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return," and we are so marked with the dust of ashes.
    The non-essential is stripped away. The unimportant is removed. In this act, we finally confess that all our finery, our clothing, our possessions, our abilities -- all that we think that makes us who we are -- is not at all who we are. We are only dust, and we stand as like beings before the Lord.
    Absolution does not come this night. Our whole season of Lent will be one of repentance. Absolution will come with the Maundy Thursday supper of love. And yet God would not leave us without an encouraging word: "The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ does not desire the death of sinners...." We ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit for true repentance.



Prelude & Silent Meditation

Psalm 51:      Stand

The minister sings the first verse, then all sing the rest of the Psalm

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your 'lovingkindness;*
     in your great compassion blot out 'my offenses.

Wash me through and through 'from my wickedness,*
     and cleanse me 'from my sin.

For I know 'my transgressions,*
     and my sin is ev 'er before me.

Against you only 'have I sinned*
     and done what is evil 'in your sight.

And so you are justified 'when you speak*
     and upright 'in your judgment.

Indeed, I have been wicked 'from my birth,*
     a sinner from my 'mother’s womb.

For behold, you look for truth 'deep within me,*
     and will make me understand 'wisdom secretly.

Purge me from my sin, and I 'shall be pure;*
     wash me, and I shall be 'clean indeed.

Make me hear of  'joy and gladness,*
     that the body you have broken 'may rejoice.

Hide your face 'from my sins,*
      and blot out all 'my iniquities.

Create in me a clean 'heart, O God,*
      and renew a right spir 'it within me.

Cast me not away 'from your presence,*
      and take not your Holy 'Spirit from me.

Give me the joy of your saving 'help again,*
      and sustain me with your boun 'tiful Spirit.

I shall teach your ways 'to the wicked,*
      and sinners shall re 'turn to you.

Deliver me from 'death, O God,*
      and my tongue shall sing of your righteousness,
      O God of  'my salvation.

Open my 'lips, O Lord,*
      and my mouth shall pro 'claim your praise.

Had you desired it, I would have 'offered sacrifice,*
      but you take no delight 'in burnt-offerings.

The sacrifice of God is a 'troubled spirit;*
      a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will 'not despise.

Be favorable and gra 'cious to Zion,*
      and rebuild the walls 'of Jerusalem.

Then you will be pleased with the appointed sacrifices,
with burnt-offerings 'and oblations;*
      then shall they offer young bullocks up 'on your altar.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the 'Holy Spirit:*
      as it was in the beginning, is now,
      and will be forev 'er. Amen


Greeting & Prayer of the Day:
P. The Lord be with you
C. And also with you.

P. Let us pray. Gracious God, out of your love and mercy you breathed into dust the breath of life, creating us to serve you and our neighbors. Call forth our prayers and acts of kindness, and strengthen us to face our mortality with confidence in the mercy of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

C. Amen





First Lesson: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming, it is near -- a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come.
Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD, your God? Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep. Let them say, "Spare your people, O LORD, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, 'Where is their God?'"
The word of the Lord.
C. Thanks be to God.


Second Lesson: 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

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 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; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

The word of the Lord.
C. Thanks be to God.


Verse: "Return to the Lord"

Gospel Lesson: St. Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

P. The Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew, the sixth chapter.
C. Glory to you, O Lord!

Jesus said to the disciples: "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."

P. The Gospel of the Lord!
C. Praise to you, O Christ!



Period of Silence

Hymn of the Day  "Chief of Sinners Though I Be"


Invitation to Lent & Confession:
P. Friends in Christ, today with the whole Church we enter the time of remembering Jesus’ Passover from death to life, and our life in Christ is renewed.
    We begin this holy season by acknowledging our need for repentance and for God’s mercy. We are created to experience joy in communion with God, to love one another, and to live in harmony with creation. But our sinful rebellion separates us from God, our neighbors, and creation, so that we do not enjoy the life our creator intended.
    As disciples of Jesus, we are called to a discipline that contends against evil and resists whatever leads us away from love of God and neighbor. I invite you, therefore, to the discipline of Lent – self-examination and repentance, prayer and fasting, sacrificial giving and works of love – strengthened by the gifts of word and sacrament. Let us continue our journey through these forty days to the great Three Days of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
    Let us confess our sin in the presence of God and of one another.

P  Most holy and merciful God,
C  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.

P  We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others as we have been forgiven.
C  Have mercy on us, O God.

P  We have shut our ears to your call to serve as Christ served us. We have not been true to the mind of Christ. We have grieved your Holy Spirit.
C  Have mercy on us, O God.

P  Our past unfaithfulness, the pride, envy, hypocrisy, and apathy that have infected our lives, we confess to you.
C  Have mercy on us, O God.

P  Our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people, we confess to you.
C  Have mercy on us, O God.

P  Our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to share the faith that is in us, we confess to you.
C  Have mercy on us, O God.

P  Our neglect of human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty, we confess to you.
C  Have mercy on us, O God.

P  Our false judgments, our uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, and our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us, we confess to you.
C  Have mercy on us, O God.

P  Our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us, we confess to you.
C  Have mercy on us, O God.

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



The Imposition of Ashes:

Those who wish to receive ashes are invited to come forward and kneel or stand at the communion rail. The ministers apply ashes to the forehead of each person with the words:

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

After all have received ashes and returned to their places,
all stand and continue

P. Accomplish in us, O God, the work of your salvation,
C. that we may show forth your glory in the world.

P. By the cross and passion of your Son, our Savior,
C. bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.

P. Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us all our sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen us in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keeps us in eternal life.
C. Amen


Prayer of the Church and Peace





Offertory Hymn  "God, Whose Giving Knows No Ending," stanza 1

Offertory Prayer: "Blessed are you..."

Great Thanksgiving (spoken)

Eucharistic Prayer for Lent (ELW IV, LBW III)

Our Father (sung)  (ELW p.163, LBW p.112)


At the Breaking of Bread:

P. This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper.

C. We do not presume to come to your table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in your manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy to gather up the crumbs under your table. But you are the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of your dear Son Jesus Christ, and so to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him and he in us. Amen


Distribution: "Lamb of God" (seated)


Post-Communion Prayer




Benediction & Dismissal

Closing Hymn  "O Lord, Throughout These 40 Days," stanza 1




Acknowledgments:  The Invitation to Lent and Confession is from the Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Augsburg Fortress, 2006.