Beloved Dust to Dust – Ash Wednesday Worship Service – Wednesday, February 22, 2012

CALL TO WORSHIP (Genesis 2:7; 3: 19 Psalm 104: 29-30; John 1: 18)

One:    Friends and neighbors, in the middle of our busy week,
we pause to observe Ash Wednesday together as a faith community.
All:    We come to remember that God made us from fragile, blessed dust
And breathes through us the breath of life and love.

One:    From dust we are created in God’s image
and to God’s good dust we shall return.
All:    With dust and oil we claim the mark of God’s beloved creature.
One:    Today we begin our 40-day Lenten journey
to discover who we are created to be as God’s beloved.
All:    In daily practices of prayer and service
we will embark upon this Lenten journey.

One:    We follow Jesus, God’s Beloved Child,
bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh
In whom we see God’s image most clearly.
All:    So come, let us pray for strength and imagination
to follow Jesus wherever he will lead us this Lent.

SONG             Let Your Spirit Come        No. 17 Sing! Prayer and Praise

Have four stations set up around the sanctuary, one for each meditation.  Invite the members of the congregation to make their way from station to station if they wish, in no particular order, or to choose one station and remain there.  Have a leader or two assigned to each station, ready to lead, assist, make people comfortable.  Schedule 7-10 minutes for each station, then 1 minute of “travel time” between stations.  A simple song can signal the time to change stations.

1.    MEDITATION ON THE BREATH OF LIFE  (Psalm 46:10a)  
Needed:  a leader to welcome the people and lead the meditation.

Settle into your seat, close your eyes and imagine a place that brings you comfort and peace. Breathe in the goodness of that space. Breathe forth the goodness that is within you. (After a minute or so, when people seem to be breathing deeply together, begin the spoken meditation.  Pause at the end of each phrase to let the meaning settle in. Each phrase grows shorter and shorter, until the leader reaches the last word.  After that is silence.)

Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know that I am
Be still and know that I
Be still and know that
Be still and know
Be still and
Be still

Needed:  a leader to offer introduction; art materials with which to write down what we need to leave behind this Lent

Tonight begins our journey through Lent, Holy Week, and Easter.
And like any well-prepared traveler,
we confess that we want to pack our bags to make sure we are comfortable
for our 6-week journey.
But Ash Wednesday is about leaving baggage behind
and braving the unknown carrying nothing but the mark of God’s beloved.

In this vulnerable place,
we confess that we want to be surrounded by all of the things
that make us feel better about ourselves,
including things we think that God needs in order to love us.
And yet God whispers to us that we are made in the divine image
and that faithfulness to that knowledge is all we need for the journey of life.
So let us ponder what it is that we may let go of this Lent,
in order to help us hear more clearly the stories
of Jesus’ extravagant love for all, and to follow him more bravely and confidently.

Invite the people to take the art supplies and create images of what they want to let go of this Lent.

3.    MEDITATION ON FRAILTY AND FORGIVENESS   Traditionally Ash Wednesday is a time to consider the reality of sin in our lives, our failures to live up to the promise of the image of God.  Psalm 51 is known as the classic “Penitential Psalm” used to give voice to our sorrow for sin and to our hope for forgiveness.

Needed: a leader to lead the Psalm; a bowl of clean water and  a small evergreen branch with which to sprinkle the people as a symbol of forgiveness. (This may be an appropriate station for the pastor to staff, to offer comfort and assurance where needed.)

Psalm 51
Leader:        Have mercy, tender God, forget that I defied you.
Wash away my sin, cleanse me from my guilt.

People        I know my evil well, it stares me in the face,
Evil done to you alone before your very eyes.

How right  your condemnation! Your verdict is clearly just.
You see me for what I am: frail, a sinner.

You love those centered in truth; teach me your hidden wisdom.
Wash me with fresh water, wash me bright and clean.

Fill me with happy songs! Let the bones you bruised now dance,
Shut your eyes to my sin,  make my guilt disappear.

Creator, reshape my heart, God, steady my spirit.
Do not cast me aside stripped of your holy spirit.

Save me, bring back my joy, support me, strengthen my will,
Then I will teach your way  and sinners will turn to you.

Help me, stop my tears, and I will sing your goodness.
Lord, give me words and I will shout your praise.
Adapted from The Psalter, translated by the International Committee on English in the Liturgy©1995 Archdiocese of Chicago

Words of Assurance of Blessing: 
Know that God loves you,
forgives you,
welcomes you and
rejoices in you. 
Let the coolness of this water refresh remind and reassure you of God’s transforming love.
(Sprinkle water on the people.)

Needed:  a few leaders to welcome and guide people in this exercise; a table set up with work stations:  modeling clay out of which to create small containers for ashes; a heavy metal bowl in which to burn dry palms from last year’s Palm Sunday service; potting soil and oil to mix with the burnt palms to create the ashes. (It will take a bit of experimentation to get the proportions right).   Some people can work on fashioning small containers for ashes; some can work on burning the palms, some can work on mixing the ashes.  There should be a spirit of gentle “happy chaos” as the dust of the earth is used to create these sacred symbols—lots of imagination and variety at work here.  It could be that everyone makes their own container and then spoons the ashes into it.  They could then bring the container forward to the leaders at the time of the imposition of ashes and receive the ashes from their own creative effort.

HYMN        Traditional Lenten Hymn from TNCH

All are invited to come forward to receive ashes on their foreheads or hands; the leaders say to each:
    Remember that you are God’s beloved dust,
and to God’s beloved dust you shall return.


    May we give of ourselves as a symbol of our appreciation
for receiving the mark of God’s love in such beautiful and meaningful ways.
As you have been given the mark of God’s love, may you give in return.


    Creator God, may the gifts we offer today
be used to share your love with all –
in our church, our community, and your world. Amen.

Blessings, like God’s love, are not one-way experiences.
As you have been blessed with the mark of God’s love
you are now called to go out from this place and bless others.
May the God who created you create opportunities of serving others.
May the Christ who teaches you teach you during Lent how to love all.
And may the Spirit of Gentleness be your companion along this Lenten journey. Amen.


#505    “Sweet Hour of Prayer”        New Century Hymnal
#488    “Be Still My Soul”            New Century Hymnal
#509    “How Deep the Silence of the Soul”    New Century Hymnal

Beloved Dust to Dust: Service Prayers for Ash Wednesday was written by the Rev. Dr. Ginny Brown Daniel, pastor of Plymouth United Church, UCC, in Spring, Texas.

Copyright 2012 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. 

Beloved Dust to Dust – Ash Wednesday – February 22, 2012