Monday, February 08, 2021

Ash Wednesday Service in a season of pandemic

 Call to Worship

L: From the shadows of isolation and shutdowns

P: we gather to be with our God

    who brings us the light of hope.

L: From the silence of our homes

    or in socially distanced worship spaces,

P: we gather to be with Jesus,

    who will not let anything, now or ever, separate us.

L: From the hollowness of our hearts

    and the hunger for human touch,

P: we gather to be with the Spirit,

    who feeds us for the Lenten journey,

    who marks us as God’s very own.

Evening Prayer

Even if we had them

from a year ago, God of our lives,

we would not be able

to burn the palm branches,

for they would be too soaked

by the tears of loneliness, of emptiness,

of these months of so much uncertainty.


But we do bring ashes

in this moment, this day, this night,

Companion on our journey,

those ashes from an overwhelming year,

the ashes from dreams turned to nightmares,

the ashes of the jobs we lost,

the anniversaries, the birthdays, the graduations,

the weddings, the funerals we dared not attend.


So, Spirit of the silence of our days,

take these ashes of our lives

and mingle them with the dust

from our crumbled hearts

and our shattered souls, to mark us

with that hope which has never left us

even though we may not have realized

that it, like you, was as close

as the very next breath we take.


As we gather wherever we are,

as we hold out our empty hands

and our emptier hears and souls,

we would offer that prayer

we have been taught,

(The Lord’s Prayer)

Invitation to the Lenten life
It was not with great confidence

or that assurance which had no doubts,

which were companions with Jesus

as he journeyed to what awaited in Jerusalem.

It was the uncertainty of what might happen,

it was the loneliness of the pilgrimage

as he experienced more and more isolation,

especially from friends who stayed as far away as possible.

So, after our year of uncertainty, loneliness, distancing,

we may realize afresh what this season

called Lent is truly all about.

For we have been in the wilderness tempted,

like Jesus to trust in those who told lies,

who offered false hopes, who longed for us

to embrace their broken promises.

Not for the first time, yet fresh once more,
we accompany Jesus to Jerusalem.
We have known what it is like

to have to fast from human companionship,

and to struggle to find the words

to offer in prayer to our God.

We have struggled from endless day

to weeks that seemed as long as months

to keep the practices of faithful living

which would strengthen us to work

for justice, to offer hope, to not give up.


So, in these moments and in the coming days,

may we draw comfort and energy

from those timeless acts passed down to us
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 which has seemed to last a year, we once again begin that pilgrimage toward the promised of Easter.  But, fresh as this moment and as old as the dust of the earth, we must speak of how hard it has been for us to be the faithful people God calls.  Let us pray together, saying,

Unison Prayer for Forgiveness

   We have tried, God who knows our intentions, we have tried so hard to be your people, especially in these times of confusion, fear, and worry.  We did a good job, at first, caring for those worse off than us, but now it has become easy to care more for ourselves.  We are uncomfortable seeing ourselves as people of privilege, yet quickly cashed those relief checks when they could have gone to those in true need.  We gave in, too often and too easily, to the easy lies about how this pandemic was nothing to worry about, rather than listening to the ones who knew what they were talking about.

   Yet, while we know how badly we have tried, we know that from the ashes of our foolish choices and lives, you can create new life and hope, God of broken hearts.  You mark us as your own, so we can turn from greed to generosity, so we can move from fear to faith, so we can stand with the oppressed and forgotten, to ensure that the justice we take for granted is shared with them.  You mark us as your own, so that we might follow Jesus, who models for us how to turn away from evil to live as people of hope and grace.  Amen.   

Silence is kept

Assurance of Pardon

L: Here is the good news: God does not socially distance from us, but comes close to hear our prayers, to fill our emptiness, to walk through the ashes of uncertainty, to journey with us in this holiest of seasons.

P:  In the midst of a pandemic of uncertainty, we can trust in the comforting, the forgiving, the restoring heart of the God who loves us.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

Imposition of the ashes
Perhaps we remembered to save

those palm branches from last year’s

services which had to be cancelled.

But if not, we have enough ashes,

those which come from our shriveled souls,

those which we gather up from dreams deferred,

those from the grief which is too painful to touch.


But, by the grace of our God

who has been with us in every moment,

we can take these ashes,

both real as well as metaphorical

mixing them with the oil of grace

so that we can touch our heads, our hands,

our hearts, our souls, our hopes

with them, whether real or virtual

reminding us that, from the dust

of a year which has crumbled around us,

God touches us with those never-ending gifts

of reconciliation and hope

of justice and restoration

of generosity and grace-filled hearts,

so that we might once again, and always,

live as the people God longs for us to become.

whether we are touched by another,

or mark ourselves as God’s own,

may we never forget that,

though we are dust and will return to dust,

God continues to create life and hope

from the dust of the stars, as well as us.  Amen.

(In these uncertain moments, some will be able to be marked with the ashes physically, while others may be reminded of their mortality, as well as their place in God’s heart, by making the sign of the cross on their foreheads or the backs of their hands)

Invitation to the Table

Whether at home or in an apartment,

in a college room or a socially distanced sanctuary,

you are invited to come to this feast.

This is the Table of our God,

it is not the church’s table, nor the ministers.

It is the table which reminds us

that in the uncertainty of our lives,

God’s grace has never departed.

It is the table where we are fed

by the justice, the hope, the life

which flows from the heart of Jesus.

It is the Table where every single

child of God is welcome, for here

the Spirit fills us with peace and community,

even though be may be apart from one another.

The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving
L: The God of ashes is with us in these moments.

P: And our God is with you, as well.
L: In the midst of our uncertain lives,

    may we offer God our hearts hungering for hope.

P: For God has promised to fill them to overflowing.

L: In the silence of these lonely days,

    may we find the words to praise our God.

P: Even though the words may not come to us,

    God knows our hearts and souls, and that is enough.

L: In the pandemic of chaos, you spoke,


God of amazing goodness,

   wiping out shadows with twinkling stars,   

   filling rivers and oceans with living waters,
   pouring the waters into rivers and seas,  
   sowing seeds of wonder into the fields.
You shaped us, your children,

out of the dust of the earth,

handing to us all that beauty and joy

which flows ceaselessly from your heart
   but we ground your hopes into the dirt,
   as we raced to catch up with death,

   clutching tight to temptation’s gifts.
Yet, however far we tried to go,

or wherever we thought you couldn’t find us,

you were there waiting for us,

to remind us of your great love for us,

longing to keep your promises of faithfulness.

With our sisters and brothers everywhere,
in the silence of our loneliness

and in the shadows of uncertainty,
we sing songs of praise:


P:  In the midst of uncertainty, your presence is constant.

     In the loneliness of isolation, you are by our side.

     In every moment, you do not leave us alone.

     All glory and praise is due to you, Holy and Loving God!

Your never-failing love is sealed

upon our empty hearts, God of holiness,

and Jesus is the One who reminds us

that we are never apart from you.

The struggles and worries which have

been velcroed to us this past year?

   They were his constant companion.

The isolation we have experienced

from those dearest to us?

   That was the loneliness which

   gnawed at his soul.  

The fear of death which has been

such a presence every day?

   That was the reality he faced

   as he journeyed to Jerusalem?

The hope that somehow, someway,

new hope, new life, new grace might appear?

   That was the wonder he realized

   as the tight grip of death

   was broken by resurrection love.

as we continue to walk through uncertainty,

as we would be marked with the ashes

of our loneliness, our isolation, our days,
we remember that mystery known as faith:

P: Christ held nothing back, especially his heart;

    Christ was raised, the voice for the forgotten;
    Christ will come to bring us to new life.

Now, at the Table of grace and life,

we pray you would pour out your Spirit,

not only on the gifts of the feast,

but on your children, God of our lives,

wherever we may be in this moment.

Like our dreams and hopes this past year,

the bread is broken and offered to us,

so, we pray that it might strengthen us

that we might continue to serve

   the most lonely in our midst

   the neighbors who grieve a death,

   the people struggling with injustice.

Though we have drunk many bitter tears,

in these moments we are given

the cup which overflows with grace,

so that we might be able to

   see you in the midst of our lives,

   feel you holding our hands on this journey,

   trust that you are bringing healing and hope.

And when this pandemic becomes history,

when we can once again gather in your house,

with our sisters and brothers around

the glad feast of hope and life,

we will sing your praises over and over,
God in Community, Holy in One.  Amen.


L: This Ash Wednesday,

     we bear the smudges of uncertainty,

P: yet we will still trust in God’s promises.
L: This Ash Wednesday,

    we may share the Feast by ourselves,

P: yet we will join the Host at the Table

    in going to care for the vulnerable all around us.

    we will go out to share God’s forgiveness

L: This Ash Wednesday, we may continue

    to journey into an unknown future,

P: yet we will continue to walk in faith

    with the Spirit who lights the way.  

© 2021 Thom M. Shuman