Ash Wednesday Service

The Gathering

In the name of the Father,

and of the Son,

and of the Holy Spirit.

All:   Amen.

The Greeting

Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you

All:  and also with you.


Brothers and sisters in Christ, since early days Christians have observed with great devotion the time of our Lord’s passion and resurrection and prepared for this by a season of penitence and fasting.

By carefully keeping these days, Christians take to heart the call to repentance and the assurance of forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel, and so grow in faith and in devotion to our Lord.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy word.

All:   Holy God,

Hymn – Be Thou my vision 

  1. Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
    naught be all else to me, save that thou art.
    Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
    waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.
  1. Be thou my wisdom, be thou my true word;
    I ever with thee, and thou with me, Lord.
    Born of thy love, thy child may I be,
    thou in me dwelling and I one with thee.
  1. Be thou my buckler, my sword for the fight.
    Be thou my dignity, thou my delight,
    thou my soul’s shelter, thou my high tower.
    Raise thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.
  1. Riches I heed not, nor vain empty praise;
    thou mine inheritance, now and always.
    Thou and thou only, first in my heart,
    Ruler of heaven, my treasure thou art.
  1. “True Light of heaven, when victory is won
    may I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s Sun!
    Heart of my heart, whatever befall,
    still be my vision, O Ruler of all

The Collect for Ash Wednesday

Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all them that are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we worthily lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

Let us pray for grace to keep Lent faithfully.

Silence is kept.

Almighty and everlasting God,

you hate nothing that you have made

and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:

create and make in us new and contrite hearts

that we, worthily lamenting our sins

and acknowledging our wretchedness,

may receive from you, the God of all mercy,

perfect remission and forgiveness;

through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,

who is alive and reigns with you,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever.

All:   Amen.

The Liturgy of the Word

The Epistle is taken from Joel Chap: 2

12 “But even now,” says the Lord, “repent sincerely and return to me with fasting and weeping and mourning.

13 Let your broken heart show your sorrow; tearing your clothes is not enough.” Come back to the Lord your God. He is kind and full of mercy; he is patient and keeps his promise; he is always ready to forgive and not punish.

14 Perhaps the Lord your God will change his mind and bless you with abundant crops. Then you can offer him grain and wine.

15 Blow the trumpet on Mount Zion; give orders for a fast and call an assembly!

16 Gather the people together; prepare them for a sacred meeting; bring the old people; gather the children and the babies too. Even newly married couples must leave their homes and come.

17 The priests, serving the Lord between the altar and the entrance of the Temple, must weep and pray: “Have pity on your people, Lord. Do not let other nations despise us and mock us by saying, “Where is your God?’ ”

This is the word of the Lord

All: Thanks be to God

Hymn  – Jesus, Lover of my Soul

  1. Jesus, lover of my soul,
    Let me to Thy bosom fly,
    While the nearer waters roll,
    While the tempest still is high.
    Hide me, O my Saviour, hide,
    Till the storm of life is past;
    Safe into the haven guide;
    Oh, receive my soul at last.
  1. Other refuge have I none,
    Hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
    Leave, ah! leave me not alone,
    Still support and comfort me.
    All my trust on Thee is stayed,
    All my help from Thee I bring;
    Cover my defenceless head
    With the shadow of Thy wing.
  1. Wilt Thou not regard my call?
    Wilt Thou not accept my prayer?
    Lo! I sink, I faint, I fall
    Lo! on Thee I cast my care.
    Reach me out Thy gracious hand!
    While I of Thy strength receive,
    Hoping against hope I stand,
    Dying, and behold, I live.
  1. Thou, O Christ, art all I want,
    More than all in Thee I find;
    Raise the fallen, cheer the faint,
    Heal the sick, and lead the blind.
    Just and holy is Thy Name,
    Source of all true righteousness;
    Thou art evermore the same,
    Thou art full of truth and grace.
  1. Plenteous grace with Thee is found,
    Grace to cover all my sin;
    Let the healing streams abound;
    Make and keep me pure within.
    Thou of life the fountain art,
    Freely let me take of Thee;
    Spring Thou up within my heart;
    Rise to all eternity.   (by Charles Wesley 1707 to 1788)

Here the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to Psalm 51

All:   Glory to you, O Lord.

1 Be merciful to me, O God, because of your constant love. Because of your great mercy wipe away my sins!

2 Wash away all my evil and make me clean from my sin!

3 I recognize my faults; I am always conscious of my sins.

4 I have sinned against you – only against you – and done what you consider evil. So you are right in judging me; you are justified in condemning me.

5 I have been evil from the day I was born; from the time I was conceived, I have been sinful.

6 Sincerity and truth are what you require; fill my mind with your wisdom.

7 Remove my sin, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

8 Let me hear the sounds of joy and gladness; and though you have crushed me and broken me, I will be happy once again.

9 Close your eyes to my sins and wipe out all my evil.

10 Create a pure heart in me, O God, and put a new and loyal spirit in me.

11 Do not banish me from your presence; do not take your holy spirit away from me.

12 Give me again the joy that comes from your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.

13 Then I will teach sinners your commands, and they will turn back to you.

14 Spare my life, O God, and save me, and I will gladly proclaim your righteousness.

15 Help me to speak, Lord, and I will praise you.

16 You do not want sacrifices, or I would offer them; you are not pleased with burnt offerings.

17 My sacrifice is a humble spirit, O God; you will not reject a humble and repentant heart.

18 O God, be kind to Zion and help her; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

19 Then you will be pleased with proper sacrifices and with our burnt offerings; and bulls will be sacrificed on your altar.

This is the word of Christ
All: Thanks be to God
Sermon for Ash Wednesday

 “In a Jesus Society you repent, not by feeling bad, but by thinking different.”

I’m indebted to Bishop Peter (Peter Price of Bath & Wells) for that quotation which I’ll be carrying in my mind through Lent this year.

“In a Jesus Society you repent, not by feeling bad, but by thinking different.”

As we hear the familiar story of the woman caught in adultery, God once again invites us to repent by thinking different and, through that thinking, by being different.

We’re invited to think different: about others; about ourselves and about God and to be different in our relationships with others, with ourselves and with God.

In our imagination we can be among the people who have come to the temple to hear Jesus teaching. With them we can watch the drama unfold and, with them, we can learn something about how things work in a Jesus society.

We see the woman dragged through the crowd. Dragged by these righteous men
of religion, the scribes and the Pharisees, determined to trick Jesus into saying or doing something which will lead to his downfall.

The woman has committed adultery. There is no disputing that fact in the story. She has committed a sin which, according to the letter of the law, carries a particularly nasty death penalty.

This woman has done wrong but somehow our sympathies, or mine anyway, are swayed more towards her than towards her accusers.

Here she stands, in front of us all, named and shamed, humiliated and alone. And there is something very unpleasant about the self-righteous way these men are gloating, using her for their own ends and attempting to manipulate Jesus who now faces their trap.

If he upholds the law of Moses and agrees to her being stoned, he can be reported to the Roman authorities for inciting murder. If he lets her go free he can be accused of blasphemy against the holy law.

It’s an explosive situation with emotions running dangerously high.

In the middle of this volatile maelstrom Jesus creates a space of calm around himself, a time of silence when our words, thoughts and feelings are echoed back to us.

From this time and place of reflection Jesus gives his response, a response which invites everyone around him, including us, to think different.

To think different: about others, about ourselves and about God

“Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her”.

Jesus calls the scribes and Pharisees to see this woman as a person, not an object of hate, fit only for condemnation and death.

He calls them to see themselves as fallible and as vulnerable as she is.

He calls them to see the justice and mercy of God, to see God as above and beyond
their values and judgments.

These men hear the call but are threatened by it. They cannot openly admit their own sinfulness so one by one they slink off to lick their wounds and prepare for their next attack on Jesus.

Only the woman remains, watched by us and the ordinary folk who came to listen to Jesus teach. With them we hear Jesus speak words of forgiveness, healing and release:

“Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again”.

If they had stayed, the scribes and the Pharisees would have heard Jesus uphold the holy law of Moses “Do not commit adultery”. Jesus still calls the adultery a sin.

But they would also have seen him show the love and forgiveness of a God who is always wanting his people to turn to him and live.

Jesus calls the woman to the knowledge that, even in her sin, she is not alone or worthless. He lifts her from her public humiliation and shame to public forgiveness and restoration into her society.

He calls her to accept God’s grace and mercy and to live a new life without the sin that brought her shame upon her.

And what about us?

Jesus calls us, too, to think different about others about ourselves and about God and through thinking different, to be different, to live our lives in a new way.

Perhaps like the Pharisees we need to learn not to be quite so quick to condemn, judge and sentence people so harshly.

Perhaps we need to learn to create time and space in our anger, indignation or contempt, so that we can think different about the way we’ll act towards others out of those feelings.

Perhaps we need time and space to remember that none of us is perfect and to find enough courage, honesty and humility to see our own shortcomings.

Perhaps, like the un-named woman we need to learn to forgive ourselves, to let go of burdens of guilt and self-hatred which threaten to overwhelm us.

Psalm 19 has two wonderful verses:

“Who can tell how often they offend?
O cleanse me from my secret faults!
Keep your servant also
from presumptuous sins
lest they get dominion over me”.

We all have secret faults and presumptuous sins which we need to own up to before God and we need to accept our responsibility for causing offence or harm to others.

But we also need to allow ourselves to let go of those faults and sins so that they don’t overwhelm us and cause us to demonise ourselves.

I’ve been thinking different about Lent and the meaning for me of Ash Wednesday and the imposition of the ashes in the sign of the cross.

By sharing my thoughts with you I’m simply offering an alternative way of interpreting the imposition of the ashes which may or may not make sense to anyone else. This is just the way I am making sense of this day for myself this year.

I see the sign of the cross on our foreheads, made from ashes, as an outward acknowledgment of our hidden sins, our secret faults, the things  which create a burden of guilt.

This sign can help us to think different about others. We can’t point accusingly at the mark on someone else’s forehead since we carry the same mark.

It can help us to think different about ourselves. Instead of feeling alone and ashamed of our sin we can see that others acknowledge that they too carry similar burdens and have a similar sense of their own sinfulness.

To help us to think different about God it might be that once we’ve received the bread and wine of our communion we could wipe away the ash crosses. A symbolic gesture, a sign of God’s forgiveness which wipes away our sin and allows us to go on our way freed from that burden of shame and guilt.

We would then see each other as men and women who have received God’s forgiveness and who must therefore also be free from our judgment or condemnation.

If this symbolism speaks to you, when you have received communion you may wish to go to the font and wipe the ash from your forehead in a new act of commitment to think different, and therefore to be different this Lent.

Whether or not you wish to think of the imposition of ashes in this way, I pray that we will all commit ourselves this Lent to thinking different about others about ourselves and about God because that’s how we will grow to be a Jesus Society.


The Liturgy of Penitence

Self-examination and Confession
Let us now call to mind our sin and the infinite mercy of God.

God the Father, 

All:   have mercy upon us.

God the Son,

All:   have mercy upon us.

God the Holy Spirit,

All:   have mercy upon us.

Holy, blessed and glorious Trinity, 

All:   have mercy upon us.

From all evil and mischief;

from pride, vanity, and hypocrisy;

from envy, hatred, and malice;

and from all evil intent, 

All:   have mercy upon us.

From sloth, worldliness and love of money;

from hardness of heart

and contempt for your word and your laws, 

All:   have mercy upon us.

From sins of body and mind;

from the deceits of the world, the flesh and the devil, 

All:   good Lord, deliver us.

In all times of sorrow;

in all times of joy;

in the hour of death,

and at the day of judgement, 

All:   good Lord, deliver us.

By the mystery of your holy incarnation;

by your birth, childhood and obedience;

by your baptism, fasting and temptation, 

All:   good Lord, deliver us.

By your ministry in word and work;

by your mighty acts of power;

and by your preaching of the kingdom, 

All:   good Lord, deliver us.

By your agony and trial;

by your cross and passion;

and by your precious death and burial, 

All:   good Lord, deliver us.

By your mighty resurrection;

by your glorious ascension;

and by your sending of the Holy Spirit,

All:   good Lord, deliver us.

Give us true repentance;

forgive us our sins of negligence and ignorance

and our deliberate sins;

and grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit

to amend our lives according to your holy word. 

All:   Holy God,

holy and strong,

holy and immortal,

have mercy upon us. 

Silence is kept.

Make our hearts clean, O God; 

All:   and renew a right spirit within us. 

All:   Father eternal, giver of light and grace,

we have sinned against you and against our neighbour,

in what we have thought,

in what we have said and done,

through ignorance, through weakness,

through our own deliberate fault.

We have wounded your love,

and marred your image in us.

We are sorry and ashamed,

and repent of all our sins.

For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,

who died for us,

forgive us all that is past;

and lead us out from darkness

to walk as children of light.


If the people are to be marked with ash. 

The Imposition of Ashes

Dear friends in Christ,

I invite you to receive these ashes

as a sign of the spirit of penitence with which we shall keep this season of Lent.

God our Father,

you create us from the dust of the earth:

grant that these ashes may be for us

a sign of our penitence

and a symbol of our mortality;

for it is by your grace alone

that we receive eternal life

in Jesus Christ our Saviour.

All:   Amen.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.

Hymn – Father Hear the Prayer We Offer

1 Father, hear the prayer we offer:
not for ease that prayer shall be,
but for strength that we may ever
live our lives courageously.

2 Not for ever in green pastures
do we ask our way to be;
but the steep and rugged pathway
may we tread rejoicingly.

3 Not for ever by still waters
would we idly rest and stay;
but would smite the living fountains
from the rocks along our way.

4 Be our strength in hours of weakness,
in our wanderings be our guide;
through endeavour, failure, danger,
Father, be thou at our side .
(by Love M. Whitcomb Willis (1824 to 1908)

God our Father,

the strength of all who put their trust in you,

mercifully accept our prayers;

and because, in our weakness,

we can do nothing good without you,

grant us the help of your grace,

that in keeping your commandments

we may please you, both in will and deed;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

All:  Amen.

The Liturgy of the Sacrament

The Lord is here.

All:      His Spirit is with us.

Lift up your hearts,

All:       We lift them to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

All:      It is right to give thanks and praise.

It is indeed right,

it is our duty and our joy,

at all times and in all places

to give you thanks and praise,

holy Father, heavenly King,

almighty and eternal God,

through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

For he is your living Word;

through him you have created all things from the beginning, and formed us in your own image. 

All:       To you be glory and praise for ever.

Through him you have freed us from the slavery of sin, giving him to be born of a woman and to die upon the cross;

You raised him from the dead and exalted him to your right hand on high. 

All:       To you be glory and praise for ever.

Through him you nave sent upon us your holy and life-giving Spirit, and made us a people for your own possession. 

All:       To you be glory and praise for ever.

Therefore with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we proclaim your great and glorious name, for ever praising you and saying: 

All:       Holy, holy, holy Lord,

God of power and might,

heaven and earth are full of your glory.

Hosanna in the highest.

Accept our praises, heavenly Father,

through your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ,

and as we follow his example and obey his command,

grant that by the power of your Holy Spirit

these gifts of bread and wine

may be to us his body and his blood;

who, in the same night that he was betrayed,

took bread and gave you thanks;

he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying:

Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you;

do this in remembrance of me.

In the same way, after supper he took the cup and gave you thanks; he gave it to them, saying: Drink this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.

All:      To you be glory and praise for ever.

Therefore, heavenly Father, we remember his offering of himself made once for all upon the cross; we proclaim his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension; we look for the coming of your kingdom, and with this bread and this cup

we make the memorial of Christ your Son our Lord. 

All:       Christ has died: Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

Accept through him, our great high priest, this our sacrifice of thanks and praise, and as we eat and drink these holy gifts in the presence of your divine majesty, renew us by your Spirit, inspire us with your love and unite us in the body of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 

All:      To you be glory and praise for ever.

Through him, and with him, and in him, m the unity of the Holy Spirit,

with all who stand before you in earth and heaven, we worship you, Father almighty, in songs of everlasting praise; 

All:      Blessing and honour and glory and power be yours for ever and ever.


Let us pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us 

The Lord’s Prayer 

Our Father, who art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy name;

Thy kingdom come;

Thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever.


Breaking of the Bread 

We break this bread to share in the body of Christ. 

All:       Though we are many, we are one body, because we all share in one bread.

All:      Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world.

Have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world,

Have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world,

Grant us peace.

Giving of Communion

Draw near with faith

Receive the body of our Lord Jesus Christ

which he gave for you,

and his blood which he shed for you-

Eat and drink

in remembrance that he died for you,

and feed on him in your hearts

by faith with thanksgiving.


We say together 


Almighty God,

you have given your only son tp be for us

both a sacrifice for sin

and also an example of godly life:

give grace

that we always most thankfully receive

these his inestimable gifts,

and also endeavour

to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life:

through Jesus Christ our Lord


The Blessing

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord; and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always.

All:      Amen. 

Hymn is – He Who Would Valiant Be

1 He who would valiant be
‘gainst all disaster,
let him in constancy
follow the Master.
There’s no discouragement
shall make him once relent
his first avowed intent
to be a pilgrim.

2 Who so beset him round
with dismal stories,
do but themselves confound—
his strength the more is.
No foes shall stay his might,
though he with giants fight;
he will make good his right
to be a pilgrim.

3 Since, Lord, Thou dost defend
us with Thy Spirit,
we know we at the end
shall life inherit.
Then, fancies, flee away!
I’ll fear not what men say,
I’ll labour night and day
to be a pilgrim.
(By John Bunyan – 1628-1688) 

Final Prayers and the Dismissal

Go in faith to love the Lord.

All: In the Name of Christ


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