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A contemplative and tactile service for Ash Wednesday

Read Psalm 51 and sections of Isaiah, then get your forehead dirty.  I know what Ash Wednesday is all about.  Perhaps there are some new, more personalized approaches to beginning this time of Lent.
Read Psalm 51 and sections of Isaiah, then get your forehead dirty. I know what Ash Wednesday is all about. Perhaps there are some new, more personalized approaches to beginning this time of Lent.
Golden Spike Lutheran Church

I first give credit to a site called Fresh Worship. The authors provided a wonderful idea about making the Ash Wednesday Service more of a time for individual reflection. Isn’t that what it should be, a time to work out our salvation—how we will respond to God’s grace. The Lenten period is the perfect time to do that.

I used much of what they had offered, added a couple other stations, and preceded this part of worship with some traditional hymns. I ended up with nine separate stations, the last of which was the imposition of the ashes.

Here is my transition from the message to the contemplative and tactile part of this service.

Around the sanctuary are Stations for this evening’s service

  • Meditation—in your own pew
  • Prayer at the altar
  • Clay
  • Oil
  • Water
  • Salt
  • Offering—tonight’s offering is for the needy in our community.
  • Forgiveness
  • Ashes – Save this as your last station.

I ask that we take about 20 minutes in silence to go to each station. Please come receive the ashes as your last station. I know that this is difficult for us as Americans, but even as you wait in a line for a station, please observe a time of silence. Remember that some will be praying at the altar and some meditating in their pews. All stations call for a time of reflection. I also ask that you not treat this as a bathroom break. This is our time of worship.

I also ask that we adopt our children who are here without parents and if necessary, quietly explain each station with them. No not neglect your own time of reflection as you do this.

If your child is too young to understand what is going on, they and other worshippers are better served this evening if they are in the nursery.

Remember that we are not making crafts so if you come to the clay station and all of the clay has been made into small bowls, take one of them and rework it as the activity calls for.

If you need help getting around, just let one of our elders know. If anyone is using a cane or walker, please let them go to the head of the line at each station.

You may want to play some background music suitable for meditation and contemplation.

Here are the instructions for each station. I placed these where they could be easily read and placed the stations as far apart as possible in the Sanctuary. No instruction sheets were printed for meditation in the pews or prayer at the altar. Here is the information for the remaining seven stations.

CLAY

The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.


Then the word of the LORD came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the LORD. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.

Jeremiah 18:1-6

Reflection: One of the ways in which sin is described in the Bible is as a “hardness of heart.” Do you ever feel that your heart is hard, that it is inflexible or judgmental? Do you keep your guard up in your relationships with others and/or with God? Reflect on the way in which this is true.

Action: Take a piece of clay. Warm it in your hands and knead it until it becomes pliable. Give it a new shape – perhaps a small bowl which could symbolize receptivity to God and to God’s forgiving love.

OIL

The thought of my affliction and my homelessness
is wormwood and gall!
My soul continually thinks of it
and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:19-23

Reflection: The author of Lamentations spends most of his time complaining, both about the world’s afflictions and his own. One thought gives him or her peace: the steadfast love of God. The knowledge of God’s unshakable love, even in the midst of trouble, is finally the grease which makes the squeaky wheel of lamentation fall silent.

Action: Dip your finger in the oil in the bowl on the table before you and smooth it onto the back of your hand. As you do, reflect on the parts of your life which are stiff and squeaky – places where you are stuck, places which give you cause for continual complaint. Consider how the love of God might lubricate these parts of your life, renewing them, making them usable in a way they have not been before.

WATER

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.

Psalm 51:10-12

Reflection: One of the ways in which we can understand Lent is to see it as “Spring Cleaning.” Just as we will clean our houses in preparation for a visit from a special guest, so we take time to examine our lives in preparation for our encounter with the risen Christ at Easter. Are there closets where you store past resentments? Clean them out! Is there a sink full of dishes with the residue of negative behaviors? Start scrubbing!

Action: Dip your hands into the water in the bowl on the table before you, and wipe your hands dry on the cloth provided. As you do so, reflect on what your life could be like, thoroughly rinsed with God’s love. Take a marble as a reminder of God’s cleansing love.

Salt and Light

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:13-16

Reflection: Have we brought out the God-flavor in the world around us or do we just settle for the world’s norms? Do we bring the light of salvation with us when we enter a room or join a group? Do we taste salty and does the world desire living water because of interaction with us? Have we hidden our God-given light under a bushel just to go down the path of least resistance?

Action: Gaze at the light and take just a very small pinch of salt—not too much. Now touch these fingers to your tongue. Could this be anything but salt? When the world experiences us, should it not say, could this be anything but a Christian?

Offering

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:19-21

Reflection: Consider God’s gift of life and grace to us. Consider that we are to live our lives in response to God’s grace. He gave all. What will we give in return?

Action: Make an offering as your heart leads you.

Forgiveness

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 1 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Matthew 6:14-15

Reflection: Think of something someone has done to you for which you have not truly forgiven them. Consider that God forgave you for everything that you have done and will do. God calls us to forgive as we desire to be forgiven.

Action: Write down the name of the person or the act that hurt you. You need only write one or two words that remind you of the hurt. After you have written the sin against you on the paper, wad the paper up and put it in the trash can and walk away. No one will see what is on the paper but you and God. The basket will be emptied into the garbage at the end of the service. It will be gone forever. Let it go with true forgiveness. Don’t go back to dig through the garbage later on.

Ashes

By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.

Genesis 3:19

Reflection: Consider your mortality. These bodies won’t last forever. We will die some day. By ourselves, we have no promise of tomorrow. God has called us to turn away from our sin for a new life in Christ. In ancient times, repentance was emphasized by wearing sackcloth—a very rough burlap type of material-- and the covering of oneself with ashes. Tonight, we simply use the ashes to make the sign of the cross on our forehead but we take this sign only after desiring to truly repent of our sinful ways.

Action: Come and receive the imposition of the ashes.

Scripture for contemplative Ash Wednesday

Genesis 3:19

Psalm 51

Jeremiah 18:1-6

Lamentations 3:19-23

Matthew 5:13-16

Matthew 6:1-21

Again, thanks to Fresh Worship for putting forth a model for this type of worship. Others may want to make their own modifications and additions as I have to better suit your congregation and situation.

May your Ash Wednesday Service be a special blessing to you and your congregation.

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