Reflection for Ash Wednesday

From dust we come
To dust we will return.
We belong to God.

We come in penitence,
We come in confidence,
We belong to God.

At the beginning of Lent
At every moment of our lives
We belong to God.

In ancient times, ashes were used to express grief and sorrow for sins and faults.

Job says to God, ‘My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.’

The prophet Jeremiah urged the wayward people of Israel to express their contrition by putting on sackcloth and rolling in the ashes.

Christians continued the practice of using ashes as a sign of repentance and by the end of the 11th century it had become a custom for ashes to be sprinkled on the heads of the faithful on the first day of Lent which became known as Ash Wednesday.

We are not be able to meet together to receive a cross of ash on our foreheads this year, but here is an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of that symbolic action, to acknowledge our brokenness, accept God’s forgiveness and commit ourselves to allowing God to work in us this Lent, transforming us from the inside out.

You are invited to prepare yourselves for worship by listening or singing along to Davie playing the tune of ‘Be still and know that I am God’.

Be still and know that I am God,
be still and know that I am God,
be still and know that I am God.

I am the Lord that healeth thee,
I am the Lord that healeth thee,
I am the Lord that healeth thee.

In thee, O Lord, I put my trust,
In thee, O Lord, I put my trust,
In thee, O Lord, I put my trust.

Listen to our Old Testament readings for today read by Ruth and Nerys: Joel 2.1-2, 12-17 and Psalm 51.1-17

Having reflected on God’s invitation to the people of Israel to return to him expressed by the Prophet Joel, on King David’s expression of repentance and on Mark Lawrence’s painting, inspired by the opening words of the psalm, we confess our sins and ask for forgiveness.

Prayer of Confession
Loving God, you made us from the dust and ashes. You know the situations we face, the decisions we make, our motives, our passions, our desires. We long to act justly, with love and kindness, towards those around us but so often we fail.

Lord have mercy upon us.

We acknowledge, and cry out in shame for our part in the wider issues that affect our world. We remember: the world’s poor, kept poor by our wasteful lifestyles; Creation’s beauty, marred by our selfish carelessness; the innocent, caught in the middle of unjust conflicts.

Christ have mercy upon us.

In all these things, we call out to you to act, to forgive and renew. To restore in us the brightness of your love, and the radiance of your glory.

Lord have mercy upon us.

Loving God, we receive your forgiveness. We receive your empowering to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with you. Amen.

Listen to Catherine singing a traditional Mexican hymn translated and adapted by John Bell.

When we are living, we are in the Lord,
and when we’re dying, we are in the Lord;
for in our living and in our dying
we belong to God, we belong to God.

Each day allows us to decide for good,
loving and serving as we know we should;
in thankful giving, in hopeful living,
we belong to God, we belong to God.

Sometimes we sorrow, other times embrace,
sometimes we question everything we face;
yet in our yearning is deeper learning:
we belong to God, we belong to God.

Till earth is over may we always know
love never fails us: God has made it so.
hard times will prove us, never remove us;
we belong to God, we belong to God.

Prayer of Turning Around

Loving God,
truly dust we are, and to dust we shall return;
and truly yours we are, and to you we shall return.
Help this to be a time of turning round and beginning again.
Through the forty days of Lent, help us to follow you
and to find you: in the discipline of praying
and in the drudgery of caring –
in whatever we deny ourselves,
and whatever we set ourselves to learn or do.
Help us to discover you in our loneliness and in community,
In our emptiness and our fulfilment,
in our sadness and our laughter.
Help us to find you when we ourselves are lost.
Help us to follow you on the journey to Jerusalem
to the waving palms of the people’s hope,
to their rejection, to the cross and empty tomb.
Help us to perceive new growth amid the ashes of the old.
Help us, carrying your cross, to be signs of your Kingdom. Amen.

(Jan Sutch Pickard in Eggs and Ashes, ed. Ruth Burgess and Chris Polhill)

Pray for God’s Holy Spirit to come upon you, upon our church and into our world as Davie plays:

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me
Melt me, mould me
Fill me, use me
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on us
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on us
Melt us, mould us
Fill us, use us
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on us.
(Daniel Iverson)

We have come before God in penitence and faith, we’ve acknowledged our brokenness and accepted God’s forgiveness. We’ve committed ourselves to observe the season of Lent and asked God, through the Holy Spirit, to help transform us. Now let’s listen to the advice Jesus gave to his first followers in Matthew 6. 1-6, 16-18. Hugh is reading from the Message.

The desert waits
ready for those who come,
who come obedient to the Spirit’s leading;
or who are driven,
because they will not come any other way.

The desert always waits,
ready to let us know who we are—
the place of self-discovery.

And whilst we fear, and rightly,
the loneliness and emptiness and harshness,
we forget the angels,
whom we cannot see for our blindness,
but who come when God decides
that we need their help;
when we are ready for what they can give us.

(Ruth Burgess in Eggs and Ashes, ed. Ruth Burgess and Chris Polhill)

‘Angels bring food to Jesus in the wilderness’ from A Mirror of Holiness of Father Jerome Xavier’, Mughal India, 1602-1604. Click here for more information.

As you prepare yourself for the weeks ahead, listen to or join in with Catherine singing ‘Sent by the Lord am I’ by Jorge Maldonado.

Sent by the Lord am I;
my hands are ready now
to make the earth a place
in which the kingdom comes.

The angels cannot change
a world of hurt and pain
into a world of love,
of justice and of peace.

The task is mine to do,
to set it really free.
O help me to obey;
help me to do your will.

From dust we come
to dust we will return
we belong to God.

Grace us with your blessing
today and always.
Keep us close to you, God,
Keep us close to you. Amen