Ash Wednesday, a day of fasting, is the first day of Lent in Western Christianity. It occurs 40 days, excluding Sundays, before Easter. The Gospels tell us that Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert where he endured temptation by Satan. Lent originated as a mirroring of this – fasting 40 days as preparation for Easter.
Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of blessing ashes made from palm branches blessed on the previous year’s Palm Sunday, and placing them on the heads of participants to the accompaniment of the words “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”.
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Opening sentence and prayer:
My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready.
Merciful and compassionate God: cleanse my heart and strengthen me in love through the Holy Spirit. Lord, Your word is life; may my life be nourished and sustained by every word You speak. In the life of Jesus You have shown me the way of love; teach me to follow this way in the great and small events of life. Grant me a spirit of self-denial, and move me to help my brothers and sisters in their need. Let me bear witness to the death of Your Son, for in His death You have brought me to life. Give me, Lord, your Holy Spirit.
A Reading from the Old Testament: Joel 2:12-18 (NLT)
That is why the Lord says, “Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead.”
Return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish. Who knows? Perhaps he will give you a reprieve, sending you a blessing instead of this curse. Perhaps you will be able to offer grain and wine to the Lord your God as before.
Blow the ram’s horn in Jerusalem! Announce a time of fasting; call the people together for a solemn meeting. Gather all the people — the elders, the children, and even the babies. Call the bridegroom from his quarters and the bride from her private room. Let the priests, who minister in the Lord’s presence, stand and weep between the entry room to the Temple and the altar.
Let them pray, “Spare your people, Lord! Don’t let your special possession become an object of mockery. Don’t let them become a joke for unbelieving foreigners who say, ‘Has the God of Israel left them?’”
Then the Lord will pity his people and jealously guard the honor of his land.
A Reading from the Letters: 2 Corinthians 5:20—6:2 (NLT)
So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
As God’s partners, we beg you not to accept this marvelous gift of God’s kindness and then ignore it. For God says, “At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.”
Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation.
If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts. (Psalm 95:8)
A Reading from the Gospels: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18 (NLT)
“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do — blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.
“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.
Christ, as a light illumine and guide me. Christ as a shield overshadow me. Christ under me; Christ over me; Christ beside me on my left and my right.
This day be within and without me, lowly and meek, yet all-powerful. Be in the heart of each to whom I speak; in the mouth of each who speaks unto me. This day be within and without me, lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.
Christ as a light; Christ as a shield; Christ beside me on my left and my right.
May the Lord Christ go with you, wherever He may send you. May He guide you through the wilderness, protect you through the storm. May He bring you home rejoicing at the wonders He has shown you. May He bring you home rejoicing once again into our doors.
+ In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen