United Church of Christ

Lent -- Ash Wednesday

Heart of the Matter
Service for Ash Wednesday

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; (or Isaiah 58:1-12); Psalm 51:1-17;
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

“Alleluia” is the song of praise traditionally used by Christians to celebrate the resurrection of Christ,

his triumph over sin and death.  The Church customarily refrains from using this form of praise during the 40 days of Lent, as we are invited to search our hearts to recognize and repent of

the power of sin within our own lives and the life of our world.


Prior to worship, with the order of service, give each attendee a small, smooth stone with the word “Alleluia” written on it.  They will be giving up these stones for Lent as they approach the altar for imposition of ashes. 


Call to Worship (freely adapted from the Joel reading)


ONE:  The Day of the Lord is coming upon us!

ALL:  O Lord, we need your mercy and grace!


A day of darkness and gloom, of sorrow and worry,

of grief and shaking spirits.

O God, sustain us!


            A day of terror and turmoil, of pain and faltering,

of deep sadness and trembling hearts.

Blow the trumpet!  Call all the people together!

Bring all the men and women, all the children, all the elders. 

Raise your voices and sound the alarm!


Look, Holy One! 

We gather ourselves together between the altar and the door! 

We mourn; we weep, we fast! 

We cannot sing Alleluia when our voices are broken by tears!

            Most High, come and save us!  Spare us! 

Do not let them ask, “Where is now their God?”


Invocation or Prayer Before the Burning of Palms


God of our Hearts,

not of our outer garments, nor our church structures,

nor our programs and human plans,

you are the only one who can make us pure. 

You are the only one who can wash us clean of all our sin and guilt. 

You alone can save us from the terrible Day of the Lord. 

You are the merciful and just God. 

If we turn, we see you. 

Help us to turn, O God of all hearts,

and find you here with us:

Emmanuel – the Christ-heart within us all. 

We light our fires for you, to reflect your shining. 


Place dried palms in flameproof vessel on the altar and ignite.

When the flames die away, add oil to the ashes and stir

to make the paste for imposition.


Litany of Confession



ONE:  O God of Grace, may we not have received you in vain.

When we pray because we desire others’ good opinion,

ALL:   Forgive us, Lord.


When we give our gifts for others’ approval,

            Forgive us, O God.


            When we deny ourselves to get others’ admiration,

            Forgive us, Merciful One.


When we fail to do unto others as we would like them to do unto us,

            Forgive us, Spirit of Love.


            When we put our privileged selves first,

before the poor and needy and disadvantaged of this world,

            Forgive us, Creator of Truth.


            When we keep for ourselves more than what we need,

            Forgive us, Give-Away God. 


Forgive us our sins and trespasses and debts. 

Only then can our souls be washed clean and spotless.

Only then can we be your true servants.

Only then will we reach the pure heart of the matter.


Assurance of Pardon

For the heart of the matter is that we can find our treasures in heaven,

and also on earth, so long as we are forgiven and set free of our burdens and sin. 

Bless God who frees us and lights up our heart-shadows with the fire of agape -- love.


Response Hymn              Many Are the Lightbeams (verse 1)                     TNCH 163


Offertory Invitation

As Christ has given to each of us a loving heart and a generous spirit,

let us testify for him in the giving of our tithes and offerings. 


Offertory Dedication

God of the Heart-of-the-Matter,

we have given you back a small portion of your bounty to us. 

May it bless the hearts of all who come to our church and partake of its love. 


Invitation to Imposition of Ashes

(Invite all to bring their “Alleluia” stone to the altar to give it up as a Lenten gesture.)


And so now, come, giving away your stone “alleluias”

for the next forty days. 

Accept instead the ashes of humility and the oil of repentance;

be illumined within your heart,

knowing that you are forgiven and “alleluia” will return.


Benediction—Prayer after Imposition

So, you have come in the struggle of your lives

to acknowledge Jesus and his life and death. 

While you wear the symbol of all death on your foreheads,

still, know in your hearts that this is not all there is.

 “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust” is the stuff of our little lives. 

But the heart of the matter is the alleluia –

faith in the God within you and the fire of Christ’s love in your life and work. 

Go in peace and hope, and gather your true purpose about you! 

You will sing “Alleluia” once again!  Amen.


Hymn Suggestions

Gathering:  Draw us in the Spirit’s Tether – TNCH 337

Doxology: Give Me a Clean Heart -- TNCH 188

Benediction Response: Peace I Leave with You My Friends
(chorus only) – TNCH 249

Other Hymns:  Beneath the Cross of Jesus – TNCH 190;

Dust and Ashes – TNCH 186;  

Pues si vivimos – TNCH 499;

Lord I Want to be a Christian in My Heart – TNCH 454;   

If I Have Been the Source of Pain, O God – TNCH 544.


Heart of the Matter: Service Prayers for Ash Wednesday, Year A was written by The Rev. Marilyn K. Levine, a United Church of Christ pastor serving New Town United Church of Christ and Parshall Memorial Congregational Church on the Fort Berthold Reservation at Lake Sakakawea in northwest North Dakota.

Copyright 2011 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.