Thursday, February 23, 2017

Ash Wednesday alternate service

Texts:  Amos 5:8-15; Psalm139:7-12; Romans 8:31-35; Luke 18:9-14

Call to Worship
We gather in the dimness of evening
to be with the God who brightens
the shadows of our lives.
We gather in the quiet of this place,
to be with Jesus, knowing that nothing
past, present, or future separates us.
We gather to be marked as disciples,
to be fed for the journey through Lent,
to be sealed by the Spirit as God’s own.
 
Evening Prayer
You wait on this evening,
Patient God, for us to come back:
to stop going away from you
   on our self-focused travels;
to set aside our empty fears;
to cease shaping you in our image,
   so we can discover you closer
   than we ever dare imagined.

You wait for us this night,
Companion of our hearts,
for us to follow once more:
leaving the shuttered corners
   of our lives;
refusing to go from one failed
   promise to another;
coming out of the panic rooms
   we have built in our souls,
so you can take us by the hand
to lead us to resurrection life.
 
You wait in scattered ashes of our lives,
Spirit of silence, for us to find you:
in the broken bread
   which strengthens us to serve;
in the cup of grace
   which fills our emptiness;
in our sisters and brothers
   who are willing to hold us up
   when we falter,
so you can embrace us
with joy and hope in every moment.
 
As you wait, and as we seek
to return to you in these moments,
we pray as we are taught,
(The Lord’s Prayer)
 
Invitation to the Lenten life
Not for the first time, yet fresh once more,
we accompany Jesus to Jerusalem.
Because of his experience in the wilderness,
we discover how we might have the strength
to turn our back on evil, so we can choose good.
By his example of fasting and prayer
In the midst of serving and caring for others,
we can learn that rhythm of faithful living
which allows us to work for justice and hope,
as we draw strength from the timeless acts
of silence, feasting on the word, and prayer.
As we remember our baptism into faith,
as we gather at the feast of grace,
as we are marked as Christ’s own,
we prepare ourselves to come to God,
on this holy night.
 
Call to Reconciliation
On this night, we begin our journey to Easter.  Before we can take the first step, we must admit how we have not been faithful to our God.  Let us pray together, saying,
 
Unison Prayer for Forgiveness
   We have trouble telling the truth, God of broken hearts, yet we must admit on this night how we have trouble being your people.  We may not trample the poor, but we sometimes walk right past them.  We don’t receive bribes, but we are more privileged than many around us.  We trust more in ourselves than in you, and spend far too much time patting ourselves on the back, rather than holding out a hand to others.
   Where can we go for forgiveness but to you, God of the ashes?  When we are greedy, you promise to be gracious.  When we have trouble confronting injustice, you stand at our side.  When we struggle to seek good, you point us to Jesus, our Brother, our Savior, who shows us how to turn our back on evil to follow him.  Amen.

Silence is kept
 
Assurance of Pardon
God refuses to stand far off, but comes close to us – to hear our prayers, to touch our hearts with forgiveness, and to walk with us during this holy season and beyond.
We have no need to go anyplace else, but into the comforting and restoring heart of the One who loves us.  Thanks be to God.  We are forgiven.  Amen.
 
Imposition of the ashes
Just yesterday it seems, the palms were
fresh and green, held tight in hands
as we reenacted Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.
But then they dried, shriveled, became
almost too fragile to touch, until
we burned them into the ashes for tonight.
Yet, by the grace of our God,
with the Spirit resting upon them,
they are mixed with oil and placed
on our heads or hands,
the dust of life resting upon us
as a sign that by sharing the gifts
of peace, reconciliation, justice, and generosity,
we will live into the people we long to become.
 
As we are touched with this mark,
God of all moments,
remind us that just as you
shaped humanity from earth’s dust,
so, from the ashes of repentance and denial,
that grace which is gifted to us
through Jesus Christ, our Redeemer,
will shape us into faithful followers.  Amen.
 
(In the silence, those who wish may come to have the sign of the cross placed on their foreheads or back of their hands.  The ashes are from palm branches used in previous Palm Sunday services, mixed with oil)

Invitation to the Table
 
The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving
May the God of the ashes be with you.
And also with you.
On this night, let us offer our hearts to God.
We open then so we may be filled with the gifts of Lenten discipleship.
Let us lift glad thanksgiving to our God.
We offer praise to the One who gives us the strength for this journey.
 
There at the edge of the emptiness of chaos
you spoke, God of all graciousness,
   brightening the shadows with lights in the sky,
   pouring the waters into rivers and seas,  
   planting seeds to feed all creatures.
From the dust of creation, you shaped your children,
offering us all the goodness and beauty
which overflowed from your heart,
   but we trampled through your hopes,
   as we turned from your heart
   to chase after evil’s false promises.
But no matter where we went,
or how far we sought to flee from you,
you continued to meet us in all those places,
constantly inviting us to return to you
and be filled with your steadfast love.
 
Therefore, we join with our sisters and brothers,
in the silence and shadows of this evening,
to offer you songs of thanksgiving:
 
Holy, holy, holy are you, God who is at our side.
We join all creation in singing your praises.
Hosanna in the highest!
 
Blessed is the One who makes us right.
Hosanna in the highest!
 
Your constant love is the seal of your holiness,
and Jesus is the One who comes
so we will never be separated from you.
He endured every hardship we experience,
   so we receive the hope you offer to us;
he experienced the hunger of loneliness,
   so we might become members of your family;
he was willing to set aside his life,
   so death would have no power
   to keep us apart from you, but
   your resurrection power would give us
   the same life he received from you.
 
As we take our tentative first steps towards Jerusalem,
as we would be marked as his companions,
we remember that mystery known as faith:
 
Christ died, not withholding his heart;
Christ was raised, so that he might become our advocate;
Christ will come, to draw us to your side.
 
Here at this Table of life and longing,
pour out your Spirit on us,
and on the gifts offered to us.  
May the bread which is broken
strengthen us so nothing can separate us
   from those who struggle with life;
   from those who mourn a death;
   from those who have no power or voice.
May the cup which overflows with grace
nourish us so we pick up
   those who have been trampled by misery;
   those who are trapped by injustice;
   those who are pushed aside by the privileged.
 
And when neither death nor life,
neither time nor history
can keep us apart from you
as you gather us around your Table
with our sisters and brothers,
we will sing your glory and praise forever and ever,
God in Community, Holy in One.  Amen.
 
Sending
Smudged this night with the ashes of penitence,
we will go out to share God’s forgiveness
with those we have hurt, with those who are forgotten.
Fed this night by the Host of the Feast of grace,
we will go out to bring healing to the broken,
to offer grace to those trampled by the powerful.
Called this night to journey through suffering to new life,
we will go out to stand with those experiencing injustice,
to share the Spirit’s peace and reconciliation with the world.
 
© 2017 Thom M. Shuman