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Sermon and Liturgy for Ash Wednesday - Year A
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; Psalm 103:8-18; and Matthew 6:1-6,16-21


READING:  Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; Psalm 103:8-18; and Matthew 6:1-6,16-21
SERMON :  "Ash Wednesday - Year A - From Ashes To Ashes"

a-ashwsn 822
Rev. Richard J. Fairchild                 

     This is a traditional Ash Wednesday Service.  There is
     very little variation from last years's service, found
     also in our "Seasonal Resources" page.  Nor is there a
     need for it be so.  The only variation in readings from
     the tradition is the use of Psalm 103 instead of Psalm
     51 for the responsive reading.  The use of music here
     is different than last year, the homily, and also the
     place in the service in which the Ashes are made ready.

     Note that ashes should be prepared outside the church -
     except for that part noted in the service..  Holy Water
     or Anointing Oil can be used for the final preparation
     during the service itself.  


CALL TO WORSHIP & PRAYER OF APPROACH  
L    The Lord be with you.
P    And also with you.
L    Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Gospel of God and
     saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at
     hand; repent and believe the Gospel."  He also said: "I have
     come that you might have life, and have that abundantly."
P    We come before God this night, Ash Wednesday, the beginning
     of Lent,  to hear God's word, to confess our sins, and to
     ask God to strengthen us in our faith that we might live
     more holy lives.
L    Let us Pray
P    Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made
     and forgive the sins of all who are penitent.  Create and
     make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily
     lamenting our sins and acknowledging our brokenness, may
     obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and
     forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and
     reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and
     ever.  Amen


PREPARATION OF ASHES   "The Ashes we use this night are a  sign
of repentance - of our sorrow and grief concerning our sin.  They
have been prepared in the traditional manner.  Palm Crosses that
were used in the Palm Sunday Processional from last year were
sprinkled with salt and burned and the ashes collected and made
ready in this pottery container.   I now light one such cross so
that the smoke may rise up to God in your presence..... and place
it in the container as a reminder of how the triumph of Holy Week
quickly turned to sorrow..... Finally, to prepare the Ashes for
use on this Holy Night - I sprinkle them with the Sacred Oil of
Anointing, oil made from Frankincense and Myrhh...."


HYMN: Forgive Our Sins As We Forgive                     - VU 364


THE FIRST READING: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
     A Reading From the Prophet Joel

     "Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy
     mountain!  Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for
     the day of the LORD is coming, it is near - a day of
     darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! 
     Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and
     powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old,
     nor will be again after them in ages to come.  Yet even now,
     says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with
     fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts
     and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he
     is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in
     steadfast love, and relents from punishing.  Who knows
     whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing
     behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the
     LORD, your God?  Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast;
     call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the
     congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even
     infants at the breast.  Let the bridegroom leave his room,
     and the bride her canopy.  Between the vestibule and the
     altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep.  Let
     them say, "Spare your people, O LORD, and do not make your
     heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations.  Why should
     it be said among the peoples, 'Where is their God?'"

     L    This is the Word of the Lord
     P    Thanks be to God.


THE SECOND READING: Psalm 103:8-18 (Responsively)
L    The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and
     abounding in steadfast love.  He will not always accuse, nor
     will he keep his anger forever.
P    The Lord remembers we are but dust.

L    He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us
     according to our iniquities.  For as the heavens are high
     above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those
     who fear him; 
P    The Lord remembers we are but dust.

L    As far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our
     transgressions from us. 
P    The Lord remembers we are but dust.

L    As a father has compassion for his children, so the LORD has
     compassion for those who fear him.  For he knows how we were
     made; he remembers that we are dust.
P    The Lord remembers we are but dust. 

L    As for mortals, their days are like grass; they flourish
     like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and
     it is gone, and its place knows it no more.
P    The Lord remembers we are but dust.

L    But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to
     everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to
     children's children, to those who keep his covenant and
     remember to do his commandments.
P    The Lord remembers we are but dust.


THE THIRD READING: Matthew 6:1-6,16-21
     A reading from the Gospel According to Matthew.  

     "Beware of practising your piety before others in order to
     be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your
     Father in heaven.  So whenever you give alms, do not sound a
     trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues
     and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. 
     Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.  But when
     you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your
     right hand is doing,  so that your alms may be done in
     secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 
     And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for
     they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the
     street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I
     tell you, they have received their reward.  But whenever you
     pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your
     Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret
     will reward you.  And whenever you fast, do not look dismal,
     like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to
     show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they
     have received their reward.  But when you fast, put oil on
     your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be
     seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and
     your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  Do not
     store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and
     rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store
     up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth
     nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and
     steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be
     also."

L    This is the gospel of our Lord.
P    Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ.


HOMILY
Each Ash Wednesday I am reminded of the words of the committal
part of the Funeral service which go "Therefore we commit his
body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust"

A form of those words are spoken for the very first time in the
garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve eat of the tree of the
knowledge of good and evil.  God says to them - "Dust thou art,
and to dust thou shall return."

Dust to dust, ashes to ashes.  A stark reminder of from whence we
arose and to whence, all other factors being equal,  we shall
return.  We are by nature and deed - a walking, talking,
thinking, doing package of dust and ashes.  

There is not much value in dust and ashes.  Gardeners know that
it can be used to help grow plants - but basically it is
worthless.   In fact it is often less than worthless - it is a
hinderance and a liability.  You can't make it pretty by painting
it, or smell good by spraying perfume on it.  Dust is dust, ashes
are ashes - and the plain fact is they both are largely to be
avoided.

And that is us too.  When all is said and done - are
righteousness is like rags upon us; our virtue is but a spray of
perfume upon thoughts and feelings and deeds that are best buried
and forgotten.

So why do we bother tonight smearing ashes on our foreheads?  Why
do we gather and remember what we are on this cold winter night?

Well - the answer is that while we gather to remember who we are,
we also gather to remember who God is - and what God has done for
us in and through Jesus.

We gather - because - all other factors are not equal.

God has given us a way out of our plight of "ashes to ashes, dust
to dust".   It is the way of the Cross.   The death of Jesus was
God's way of placing a sign of infinite value upon that which
would otherwise be worthless.  Tonight it is for us to know and
realize that God has chosen to give us some other life than that
which leads to the dust heap and the ash pit.  

And all that God asks of us in this is that we accept his mercy,
that we remember we are sinners, and repent and believe in his
Son.

And he asks us too that we try to practice a piety that is based
on his love - instead of being motivated by thoughts of human
praise or reward, that we try to show a righteousness that is
based on His goodness  - instead of being motivated by thoughts
of demonstrating  our virtue.
 
God has committed himself to us - and given to us a sign of that
commitment - the cross.  Tonight we come to take upon ourselves
that sign - we come to commit ourselves to God and the way that
his Son has shown us.  

We come to remember the words of the committal service, the words
that do not stop with "earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to
dust", but continue on to say "trusting in God's great mercy by
which we have been born anew to a living hope through the
resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."

These words we should always remember - for we are born anew to a
living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ - a hope
that comes to us because of the mercy and the love of God for his
people; a hope that comes because God has acted in and through
Jesus to open the way to new life to all who repent and believe
in the good news that he proclaimed.

Thanks be to God who gives us the victory.  Amen.


SILENT PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Let us pray and reflect in silence for a minute or two on who we
are and who God is - and ask God to show his mercy towards us. 
Let us pray.


HYMN:   "Sunday's Palms Are Wednesday's Ashes"           - VU 107


KYRIE ELEISON
L    Let us come before God in faith, confessing to him and to
     one another our manifold sin and asking for his healing
     grace to be upon us. ... (brief silence).
L    Lord, have mercy upon us.
P    Christ, have mercy upon us.
L    Lord, have mercy upon us.


PRAYER OF CONFESSION
L    Most Holy and merciful Father, we confess to you, to one
     another, and to the whole communion of saints in heaven and
     on earth, that we have sinned against you by our own fault
     in thought, word and deed; by what we have done, and by what
     we have left undone.  We have not loved you with our whole
     heart, and mind, and strength.  We have not loved neighbours
     as ourselves.  We have not forgiven others, as we have been
     forgiven.
P    Have mercy on us, Lord.

L    We have been deaf to your call to serve as Christ served us. 
     We have not been true to the mind of Christ.  We have
     grieved your Holy Spirit.
P    Have mercy on us, Lord.

L    We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness: the
     pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives.
P    Have mercy on us, Lord.

L    Our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation
     of other people,
P    We confess to you, Lord.

L    Our anger at our own frustration, and our envy of those more
     fortunate than ourselves.
P    We confess to you, Lord.

L    Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and our
     dishonesty in daily life and work,
P    We confess to you, Lord.

L    Our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to
     commend the faith that is in us,
P    We confess to you, Lord.

L    Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done;
     for our blindness to human need and suffering, and our
     indifference to injustice and cruelty,
P    Accept our repentance, Lord.

L    For all false judgements, for uncharitable thoughts toward
     our neighbours, and for our prejudice and contempt toward
     those who differ from us.
P    Accept our repentance, Lord.

L    For our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack
     of concern for those who come after us,
P    Accept our repentance, Lord.

L    Restore us, good Lord, and let your anger depart from us;
P    Hear us, Lord, for your mercy is great.


IMPOSITION OF THE ASHES
L:   Almighty God, from the dust of the earth you have created
     us.  May these ashes be for us a sign of our mortality and
     penitence, and a reminder that only by your gracious gift
     are we given eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Saviour. 
     Amen.

          Those who receive ashes now come forward. 
          The Minister will sign you with ashes saying
          "Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall
          return".  After all have received the service
          continues with the following: 

L    Accomplish in us, O God, the work of your salvation.
P    That we may show forth your glory in the world.
L    By the cross and passion of your Son, our Lord,
P    Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his
     resurrection.


ABSOLUTION
L    Hear the good news: Christ Jesus came into the world to save
     sinners.  He gave power to his disciples to declare and
     pronounce to his people, being penitent, the absolution and
     remission of their sins.  I declare to you, therefore, that
     God is just, and may be trusted to forgive your sins and
     cleanse you from every kind of wrong.  In the name of
     Christ, I tell you, your sins are forgiven you.  If you
     would have the life God intends for you, be you likewise
     forgiving.


SHARING OF THE PEACE     The people are asked to exchange a hug or a
                         handshake saying as they do: "The peace of
                         the Lord be with you"


COMMUNION
- The Eucharistic Prayer
- The Word's of Institution and Invocation of The Spirit
- The Lord's Prayer
- Distribution of the Elements

     Communion will be received by coming forward, receiving the
     body of Christ from one server and dipping it into the
     chalice held by the second server.  At each station the
     server will say "The body/blood of Christ broken/shed  for
     you.  The response is "and also for you". 


CLOSING PRAYER: 
L    God of compassion, through your son Jesus Christ you
     reconciled your people to yourself.
P    Following his example of prayer and fasting, may we obey you
     with willing hearts and serve one another in holy love,
     through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen


HYMN:  "Throughout These Lenten Days and Nights"         - VU 108


BENEDICTION
The Lord bless you and keep you.  The Lord make his face to shine
upon you and be gracious unto you.  The Lord lift up his
countenance upon you and give you peace - both now and evermore.


* CHORAL BLESSING:  "Go Now In Peace"                    - VU 964

                                
INFORMATION FOR BULLETIN INSERT:                   
Ash Wednesday, is the first day of Lent, the 40 days that
precedes Holy Week and Easter.  In the Christian Scriptures the
number 40 relates to the period spent in the Ark by Noah, the
period spent by Israel seeking the Promised Land after the
Exodus, and the amount of time Jesus was in the Wilderness after
his baptism and prior to beginning his ministry.  For us, the
Season of Lent is an invitation to 40 days of renewal ("Lent"
means "spring"),  40 days to prepare ourselves to take in the
Good News of Easter through deeper  disciplines of prayer,
fasting, and almsgiving.   Ashes are the traditional sign of
sorrow and repentance and are also a sign of "mortality". 
Receiving the sacrament tonight reminds us that God's love is
triumphant over sin and death, and that God remains "in
communion" with us, that in Christ, our mortality is overcome. 


copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 1999 - 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.


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