Lent -- Ash Wednesday

See!  Now Is the Acceptable Time
Part I*:
Ash Wednesday Service 


Setting the Space

If possible, arrange the sanctuary space so that members are seated in a circle (two half-circles with aisles to         

allow movement), facing inward. Place the baptismal font at the center of the circle, as a reminder of

Christ’s claim on our lives, and choose one aisle that will be the “front” where you will be.  Place a small table near     

where you plan to stand, with the container of ashes and any other supplies you think you will need, but be        

sure to keep it out of the walking path – when the time comes for the imposition of the ashes, direct the            

congregation to line up in front of you through the middle of the circle, and to go back to their seats via the       

aisle behind you.  If you wish, you can set up a lectern (or even a music stand) opposite you near the other     

aisle, and invite lay readers to read scripture from that place.


Call to Worship/Invocation


Leader:             Come, you who are toiling, you who are bound-up;

People:            Come, Liberating God, hear our cries for mercy!

Leader:             Come, you who are lost, you who are hopeless;

People:            Come, Redeeming Christ, turn us to your light!

Leader:             Come, you who are angry, you who are hurting;

People:            Come, Cleansing Spirit, enter in to our hearts!

Leader:             Come, for confession, for forgiveness, for restoration!

People:            Come, O Holy One, free us, heal us, bless us!


Hymn                       What Wondrous Love Is This                                                    TNCH  223


Setting the Context 

Say a brief word about Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent into which we are entering – what it is, and      

why confession is an important aspect of our public worship and congregational life.  Invite people to ponder  

Isaiah’s understanding of the spiritual practice of fasting: dedication to the work of justice and restoration.


Scripture Reading        Isaiah 58:1-12 


Confession based on Psalm 51:1-17


Designate one side of the congregation as Side A, and the other as Side B.  Especially if they are facing one       

another, encourage them to think of this confession as a time to confess to one another as well as to God.  If         

you wish, you may add a pause for silence between each stanza.

Leader:             Have mercy on us, O God, according to your steadfast love.

Side A:             You know my transgressions, Righteous God, and so do I.

Side B:            I have done what is evil in your sight.

Side A:             Please…

Side B:            Please…

Side A:             As your people, we have not been as faithful as we could be.

Side B:            But we do not know how to escape from our sin


Leader:             Have mercy on us, O God, according to your steadfast love.

Side A:             We pass judgment on others;

Side B:            And we forget that judgment is your job, not ours.

Side A:             Please…

Side B:            Please…

Side A:             Do not cast me away from you;

Side B:            Do not take your Holy Spirit from me.


Leader:             Have mercy on us, O God, according to your steadfast love.

Side A:             Wipe away my wrongdoings, God of Mercy;

Side B:            Hide your face from my transgressions, God of Love.

Side A:             Please…

Side B:            Please…

Side A:             Create in me a clean heart.

Side B:            Put a new and right spirit within me.


Leader:             Have mercy on us, O God, according to your steadfast love.

Side A:             Sustain in me a willing spirit;

Side B:            And restore to me the joy of your salvation.

Side A:             Please…

Side B:            Please…

Side A:             You desire truth in my inward being;

Side B:            Therefore, teach me wisdom in my secret heart


Leader:             Have mercy on us, O God, according to your steadfast love.

Side A:             Let me hear joy and gladness;

Side B:            Let me sing aloud of your deliverance!

Side A:             Please…

Side B:            Please…

Side A:             Our sacrifices will not appease you

Side B:            It is our genuine selves that you desire.


Leader:             Have mercy on us, O God, according to your steadfast love.

Side A:             Deliver me from bloodshed, God of my salvation,

Side B:            And my whole self will declare your praise!

Side A:             Have mercy on me, O God,

Side B:            According to your steadfast love.

Side A:             Then I will become an example for faithfulness;

Side B:            And I will help others return to your ways.


All:                  Have mercy on us, O God, according to your steadfast love.

Assurance of God’s Love


Leader:             When we cry for help, God will respond, “Here I am.” 

                        The sincerity of our confession is more pleasing to God

                        than all our boasting of accomplishments. 

                        Through our Guide, our Nourishment, our Strength,

                        we can repent of our wrongdoing and rebuild our relationships,

                        and the light of God’s unfailing love will be magnified in us. 


Scripture Reading      Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21


Imposition of Ashes 

Explain this ancient ritual and invite congregants to come forward to receive the ashes or a blessing. 

Provide several options and encourage everyone to participate in a way that is comfortable for them: ashes on        

the forehead or the back of the hand, or a blessing without ashes.  For those who want ashes on their forehead or hand,

make the sign of the cross and say: “[Name], remember that you are dust, and to dust you     

shall return,” or other suitable words.  Quiet music during this time would be appropriate.


Scripture reading        2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10


Hymn                                   Abide With Me                                                          TNCH  99




            Now is the acceptable time:

            put no obstacle in anyone’s way;

            work together to accept God’s grace;

            and be reconciled to God. 

            Loose the bonds of injustice,

            break every yoke, and

            let the oppressed go free. 

            Repair the breaches,

            restore the streets, and

            let your light rise in the shadows of these Forty Days.


The tradition of Ash Wednesday is explained in Book of Worship, beginning on page 178.


*See! Now is the Acceptable Time, Part II, will be the service for Good Friday.




See! Now is the Acceptable Time, Part I: Ash Wednesday Service, was written by Rev. Mary Nelson Abbott, Pastor of Malletts Bay Congregational Church UCC, Colchester, VT, and Treasurer of the UCC 2030 Clergy Network.

Copyright 2010 Local Church Ministries, Congregational Vitality and Discipleship Ministry Team, United Church of Christ, 700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH  44115-1100.  Permission granted to reproduce or adapt this material for use in services of worship or church education.  All publishing rights reserved. 



Rev. Susan A. Blain
Minister for Worship, Liturgy and Spiritual Formation
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland, Ohio 44115