Ash Wednesday

Contributed by Jeanyne Slettom
Copyright: This liturgy was written by Jeanyne Slettom, Ph.D. and is made available through Process & Faith, a program of the Center for Process Studies. Used by permission.

A Service of Ashes

Preparation note: The correct number of candles will need to be displayed in preparation for their gradual extinguishing over the period of Lent. This year, if the Service of Ashes is included, as well as Good Friday and all Sundays in Lent, then eight candles will be required. All candles are lit at the beginning of the Service of Ashes and one is extinguished. (On the first Sunday in Lent, the eight candles are on the table, seven are lit and another one is extinguished, and so on.) The ceremony of the candles ties the whole Lenten season together.

The preparation of the ashes for use in the Imposition of Ashes can be done a number of ways. For this service, a designated person collects the slips of paper from parishioners during the singing of the hymn immediately following the time of silent reflection. The papers are taken away from the worship area and burned. The resulting ashes are used for the Imposition of Ashes.

Depending on the size of the congregation, it might be possible, if small, to gather in a circle for Communion and Imposition of Ashes. Otherwise, depending on space and preference, congregants can approach Communion and Imposition of Ashes as specified by the worship leader.

It is also effective to sing the hymns a cappella, lending a more vulnerable, simple tone to the service.]

[Note: The following paragraph may be printed on the front cover of the bulletin.]

Shrove Tuesday is the last day before Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday. Its name comes from the old custom of being shriven, that is of confessing and receiving forgiveness, prior to the season of Lent. Shrove Tuesday comes at the end of a period of carnival and merrymaking in many countries and corresponds to the Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) of the French and Pancake Tuesday of the English. It represents the last feasting before the leaner days of Lent. (Carnival means “end of meat.”) So that no food will go to waste, the English make pancakes to use up the fats, eggs and cream that are not eaten during Lent. Mardi Gras celebrations typically include elaborate masks. These symbolize the “front” we sometimes show to others rather than the true self both we and God know. “Shrove” comes from the Latin for “to write.” Thus in tonight’s service we will write down a sin or sins for which we seek forgiveness, then symbolically burn the paper, turning our sins to ash. With Ash Wednesday, we begin the period of Lent, which prepares us for Good Friday and Easter.

Order of Worship

Opening Meditation

(The following is read but not printed in the bulletin.) We have come from home and school and work. We have had our evening meals, in the kitchen or dining room or restaurant, we have joked and laughed and at the table. But now the time of reflection  and stillness is upon us.  Now is the season for inward searching. Close your eyes. Be still. Listen. We are entering a holy time, the time of Lent. Lenten candles have been lit, but over the next six weeks the light will slowly fade into darkness. For we are journeying to the sacred center of our faith. We are entering the depths of our own hearts. At the center of our faith, in the depth of our hearts, Jesus is waiting for us, reaching out to us, inviting us to leave ordinary time and to follow him along the journey that brought him to the Cross. Listen in silence, for Jesus is calling you.

(Note: All that follows is printed in the bulletin.)

(Silent time.)

Loving Lord of life; as we journey in through this holy season of Lent, give us grace and strength to make the changes that are needed in our lives, and in so doing, may we be open to your leading. Keep us mindful that you are with us in every moment, offering us the strength and creativity to choose what is right. Amen.


Welcome to a season of self-examination. This is a time to ponder the depth of God’s love and lengths to which some have gone to bring awareness of that transforming love into the world. It is also a time to ponder what God wills for us and the world; which the Bible names as justice and Jesus called “life abundant.” Finally, it is a time to ponder what God’s love and God’s will for us call us to do. How are we to live? How are we to treat the earth, ourselves, and our neighbors? Let us open ourselves to God’s presence, knowing that God is here and everywhere, and that God speaks to us in our inmost being. Let us open ourselves to God’s wisdom and guidance, trusting that God will lead us in the way of truth. Through hardship, affliction, and calamity, we trust in the transformative love of God to steady us. Prepare yourselves for a journey of the heart. Be open to the grace that enables your growth. With gratitude and wonder, receive the Divine Love in your minds and hearts and souls.

Scripture: Psalm 51: 1-17

Hymn “Just As I Am”

(During the singing of this hymn, the first Lenten candle is extinguished. The diminishing light symbolizes the wavering loyalty of the disciples and the waning of light from the world as Jesus departs from it. Each Sunday, another candle will be extinguished, until the final candle goes out on Good Friday.)

Call to Confession

Unison Confession

God, this is a hard time. The focus of Lent is on the pain and suffering of Jesus and our own need for penitence. It is a time of gathering darkness. But we would rather skip this part and go straight to Easter. We would rather ignore the suffering—in you and in the world—and avoid the hard work of true self-examination. Forgive us for wanting this to be bright and painless and easy, when we know that Jesus did not take the easy way, but chose the path of the Cross. Teach us the true meaning of penitence, so that we use this Lenten season to humbly seek a clean heart and a renewed spirit. We pray in the name Jesus Christ. Amen.


One: The truth is this: God’s love and mercy are never-ending. God knows us in our inward being; God cleanses us from our sins and shortcomings, and restores to us the joy of salvation.

All: Thanks be to God!

Time for Reflection

(Everyone is invited to commit to writing something that they wish to burn away from their lives. These papers will be gathered and burned and the ashes used for the Imposition of Ashes.)

Hymn     “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”

Scripture Reading   2 Corinthians 5: 20b – 6: 10
Matthew 11:28-30

Reflection on Lent

Unison Scripture Reading     Psalm 23

Hymn    “As We Gather at Your Table”


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

Yet, out of death comes new life.

Imposition of Ashes

Accomplish in us, O God, the work of your salvation that we may show forth the transformative power of your love.

By the life and death and transformation of Jesus Christ, bring our minds and hearts to such a depth of understanding that we, too, accept the full promise and challenge of your love.  Amen.


Our loving Creator does not desire the death of sinners, but rather that they may turn from their distorted lives and live. Therefore we implore God to grant us true repentance that those things which we do this day may be pleasing to God, that the rest of our lives may be lived faithfully, and that at the last we may come to God’s eternal joy; through Jesus Christ.

Thanks be to God! Go in peace. Amen.