An Order of Service for Ash Wednesday

An Order of Service for Ash Wednesday

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Until the summer of 2016, when our family moved to the United States, I had the privilege of being the Director of Worship at Kingswood University in Sussex, New Brunswick, Canada. Occasionally one of my Worship Leading classes was given the honor of planning and leading an Ash Wednesday service for the broader campus community. It was a wonderful teaching opportunity for the students who planned and led the service, and an excellent modeling exercise for the congregation, each student a future ministry leader him- or herself. I was proud of the students for their hard work and sensitive leading last year, and want to share our work with you, in an effort to encourage and inspire you as you look ahead to future Ash Wednesday gatherings.

Here is the order of service from our Ash Wednesday service on February 16th, 2016. We had simple instrumentation: grand piano, acoustic, violin, and vocals; and minimal décor: Christ candle and Communion table with pottery plates and chalice. We purchased still and motion graphics from this package at Sermon Spice.

Good morning. We want to welcome you to our Ash Wednesday service. Ash Wednesday begins the forty days of preparation and self-examination of Lent, as we move toward the cross and empty grave.  On Ash Wednesday, we are like Isaiah, seeing who we are in light of God’s majesty: We are mortal, frail, and dependant. We examine ourselves, allowing God’s holy light to reveal our sin, leading us to come in repentance before God. We can be honest about our frailty, about the temptations and weaknesses we face in this life.  Ash Wednesday is also about recognizing the God who saved us from sin and death. Jesus stared death in the face, and won. So, with Christ Jesus, we too can stare death in the face, and enter into the fullness of life that will not end when our mortal bodies die.

As we begin our time of worship, let’s join God’s heart in the book of Joel.

Scripture Reading
Joel 2:12-13

Scripture Readings and Choral Response (alternating readers)
Psalm 24:9-10

Choir: Be still, be still. Know that He is God.

Isaiah 2:10

Choir: Be still, be still. Know that He is God.

1 Chron. 29:11

Choir: Be still, be still. Know that He is God.

Psalm 8:1-4

Choir: Be still, be still. Know that He is God.

Isaiah 6:1-3

Choir: Be still, be still. Know that He is God.

Isaiah 6: 4-7

Choir: Be still, be still. Know that He is God.

Leader: “Be still. Be still. Know that He is God.”

Congregational Song
God You Reign (You Are Holy) – Richie Fike, Travis Ryan, Brandon Collins & Jennie Lee Riddle

**Call to Repentance
Ash Wednesday is a time of repentance from sin, as Job repented “in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). Second Corinthians 7:10 says, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” Repentance is not just an emotional response, but it does involve a feeling of regret and remorse, and also a conviction of the enormity and offensiveness of sin, and repentance involves a turning from sin with a resolve to obey God.

Now, I firmly believe that Christians don’t have to and shouldn’t continue in wilful sin, and so I would hope and I believe that there are some of us here who don’t have any known sin in our lives. But that doesn’t mean Ash Wednesday isn’t for you. John the Baptist said to “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” Even if there is no wilful sin in our lives, we still need God’s grace to continue growing more like Jesus.

So let’s pray together in true, full repentance and seek God for a greater measure of grace and holiness in our lives, and afterwards we’ll take a couple minutes to reflect silently and repent.

Silent Reflection and Prayer

Responsive Reading from Psalm 51 

All: Have mercy on me, oh God.

Leader: According to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot our my transgressions. Wash away my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

All: Have mercy on me, O God

Leader: For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.

All: Have mercy on me, O God

Leader: Surely I was sinful at birth, yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

All: Have mercy on me, O God

Leader: Cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.

All: Have mercy on me, O God

Leader: Create in me a pure heart and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.

All: Have mercy on me, O God

Leader: I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you. Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you are my Savior, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

All: Have mercy on me, O God

Leader: Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

All: Have mercy on me, O God. My sacrifice is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you will not despise.

Video: “Dust”

Congregational Song:
Lord I Need You – Jesse Reeves, Kristian Stanfill, Matt Maher, Christy Nockels & Daniel Carson

Reading: *Life, Death and Frailty
Today, believers all over the globe are confronted by death. On Ash Wednesday, we stop what we are doing – in the middle of the week, the middle of the craziness of life – to contemplate life and its frailty. We are reminded that each and every one of us has days that are numbered. Most of us don’t like that thought. We want to be invincible. We don’t want to have to think about dying. But we’ve seen it – maybe a grandparent, a parent, a friend. We’ve seen death’s mystery and been both intrigued and repulsed by it. Many of us even fear it. But we must face the reality that the gift of life in our earthly bodies is temporary.

Today we remember that we are but dust. But, we can examine our weakness, our feebleness and know with all confidence that in God’s hand, dust – a mere clump of earth — is given life.  Today, in the ashes we will receive, we will discover that our human weakness meets divine tenderness.  Sometimes God uses ordinary elements in unexpected ways to bring grace to our lives.  God uses ash, drawn in the shape of a cross on our forehead or hand not only as a sign of our sinfulness and mortality, but also a sign of divine love and compassion.

In Psalm 103 it says:

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him.

Congregational song:
Beautiful Things – Michael & Lisa Gungor

Scripture Reading
Philippians 3:7-14

Prayers of the People

Congregational Song:
Before the Throne of God Above – Charitie Bancroft, Vikki Cook (arr. Jeff Moore, Dan Galbraith)

Prayer of Dependence

The Imposition of Ashes & Communion
People are invited to come forward, kneel, and have the ashes placed on their forehead or hand in the shape of a cross. The one placing the ashes says, “Remember that you are dust; and to dust you will return.”

People then move to the center aisle, where Communion stewards will offer the elements by intinction. The Communion stewards say, “As a believer, you participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus.” 

Once people partake in Communion, they are released to exit via the center aisle. At the sanctuary doors, they pass mirrors on either side, where they are invited to ponder their reflection with the ashen cross on their foreheads. The people stationed at the door pronounce a benediction over each person, “The Peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.”


*Written by Katie Betts

**Written by Oliver Locke

Service planning by Kingswood University class MU402, 2016: Katie Betts, Ryan Carney, Oliver Locke, Brecken Phillips, Elizabeth Rhyno, Shane Salkey, Brittany Weibe, Ron Winters, Grace Young, Emily Zottarelli


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