Ash Wednesday Worship

Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for Ash Wednesday 

Today’s service is led by The Revd Andy Braunston
Call to Worship

One: 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.
Many: Yet even now, says the Most High, return to me!
 One: Return to the Most High with all your heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing.
 Many: Yet even now, says the Most High, return to me!
One: Return to the Most High, your God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, who relents from punishing. 
Many: Yet even now, we return to the Most High!
Hymn       Led By the Spirit of Our God
© 1996, Bob Hurd. Published by OCP, OCP Session Choir, One Licence Song No 80744

Led by the Spirit of our God,
we go to fast and pray
with Christ into the wilderness;
we join His paschal way.
“Rend not your garments, 
rend your hearts.
Turn back your lives to me.”
Thus says our kind 
and gracious God,
whose reign is liberty.
Led by the Spirit, we confront 
temptation face to face,
and know full well 
we must rely 
on God’s redeeming grace.
On bread alone 
we cannot live,
but nourished by the Word.
We seek the will of God to do:
this is our drink and food.


Led by the Spirit, 
now draw near 
the waters of rebirth
with hearts that long 
to worship God
in spirit and in truth.
“Whoever drinks the drink I give 
shall never thirst again.”
Thus says the Lord who died for us,
our Saviour, kin and friend.
Led by the Spirit, 
now sing praise 
to God the Trinity:
the Source of Life, 
the living Word 
made flesh to set us free,
the Spirit blowing where it will
to make us friends of God:
This mystery far beyond our reach,
yet near in healing love.


Prayers of Approach & Illumination
Eternal One, 
we come knowing that we cannot rely on bread alone, 
but on You, who are our drink and food.
Most High, 
we come knowing that You satisfy our hunger, and quench our thirst.
Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.
Ancient of Days, 
we come knowing You blow through our lives and our world,
setting us free and giving us grace to follow.
Speak to us now as we hear Your Word, read and proclaimed,
that we may listen, understand and respond to your call,
now and always.  Amen.
Reading   Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

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?'”
Hymn       O Matchless Beauty of Our God
© The Rev’d Colin Thompson (b 1945) 
based on St Augustine’s Confessions sung by the Rev’d Paul Robinson

O matchless beauty of our God
so ancient and so new,
kindle in us your fire of love,
fall on us as the dew!
How late we came 
to love you, Lord,
how strong the hold of sin!
Your beauty speaks from all that is,
your likeness pleads within.
You called and cried, 
yet we were deaf;
our stubborn wills you bent;
you shed your fragrance, 
and we caught 
a moment of its scent.

You blazed and sparkled, 
yet our hearts
to lesser glories turned;
your radiance touched us 
far from home,
your beauty in us burned!
And should our faith 
grow weak and fall,
tried in the wilderness,
let beauty blossom out of ash,
and streams of water bless!
O matchless beauty of our God,
so ancient and so new,
enfold in us your fire of love
anoint us with your dew!


Reading   St Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Jesus said: 
“Beware of practicing 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.
Lent is a season we often don’t know what to do with in contemporary Protestant Christianity.  Our Orthodox fellow Christians abstain from meat and dairy products during these six weeks – for the Orthodox it starts a bit earlier too – and they try to get to church more often as well.  Catholics are asked to fast on Ash Wednesday and to make an effort to both give and take things up during Lent as a way to prepare for Easter – the most significant season of the Church’s year.  During the Swiss Reformation Ulrich Zwingli had no objections to people eating meat in Lent – the medieval practice was to abstain from meat – and whilst he didn’t, at first, eat meat himself, held it was wrong for the Church to require such abstinence.  Luther was suspicious of how the medieval Church seemed, to him, to put an emphasis on doing things to show one was sorry for sins – which was seen by some as a way of earning one’s salvation.  For Luther, Lent was not so much about fasting about contemplating the victory Jesus won on the Cross on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  Calvin accepted that Lent was observed in the Early Church but held that by his day it had been corrupted – of Calvin can be seen as admiring fasting as pure and holy in the Early Church but corrupt if the Catholics of his day did it!  Such were the strains of the Reformation arguments.  
The Bible, of course, commands God’s people to fast again and again as a sign of sorrow for sin.  The prophet Joel in our first reading sees God commanding fasting and in our Gospel reading Jesus tells his followers, when they fast, not to draw attention to themselves but put on their best garments so people won’t know they are feeling hungry.  As good URC folk we’re not really familiar with fasting for religious purposes.  We’re better at abstaining – some of us abstain from alcohol for personal or moral reasons.  Some of us abstain from meat or from meat and dairy products for moral and ecological reasons.  Many of us abstained from Nestle products during the boycott.  We’re also good at redirecting our money to fairly traded goods; I was delighted to find, in my local grocers,  a fairly traded coffee where the company buys beans from women farmers ensuring the money is not just fair but also goes into the pockets of those who will feed and raise the children.  It’s a bit more expensive than the supermarket lines, but tastes nicer when I know my money is helping create some good.  
Despite Protestantism’s ambivalence around fasting its all the rage in our society!  Any of us who has ever been on a diet know all about fasting.  These days some weight loss programmes are called intermittent fasting where for so many hours each day one either eats nothing or eats a tiny amount of calories with the hope this accelerates weight loss. 
In an age ever more concerned with beautiful bodies many youngsters fast by limiting what they eat and drink in the hope they will keep their good looks.  
In an age where we have, in theory, positive attitudes to bodies, sex, and sexuality our society is obsessed by young, slim, generally white, bodies.  
In an age where we say our values of diversity are vital they are often interpreted through the prism of good looking actors and models where the reality of human bodies is ignored.
Maybe the problem is that we’ve lost a sense of sin.  Joel called his people to repent in the face of a coming, but unspecified national disaster.  The people were to turn around and turn back to God and to show they were sorry by fasting and weeping; to show sorrow not in the traditional way of rending clothing but by rending their hearts – in other words to have an inner transformation.
Our contemporary society easily understands when people have done things wrong – crime, hypocrisy, prejudice, bullying are all things we see, rightly, as being wrong.  We’re much more hazy about how to put these things right.  Resignations are demanded from errant politicians but last year’s change of government showed that resignations aren’t forever; indeed even Mr Johnson felt he’d been redeemed enough to try and run again for leader of his party after a period out of office long enough only for a holiday or two.  We’ve also seen a peculiar way of giving apologies which are always conditional “if I have done anything wrong I’m sorry” or “if I’ve offended people then of course I’m sorry” which, to my mind at least, doesn’t really reek of repentance but of a sleek approach to marketing.  Sorry seems to be the hardest word; maybe that’s why the ancients prescribed showing sorrow through actions – in Joel’s case fasting and weeping.  Maybe that’s why the practice of having our foreheads marked with ash still has some power; even though it might mean we look a little odd.   What, I wonder, does Jesus make of our new-fangled conditional apologies which mean very little?  Would he see them as another form of trumpeting good works so everyone can see but which result in little, or no, genuine change.
Lent is given to us each year as a chance to take stock, to think about the direction are travelling and to see where we need to change – the oldest meaning of repent, after all, is to change direction.  We journey with Jesus on his steady approach to Jerusalem knowing the inevitable consequence of that journey, knowing he didn’t flinch or turn away and reflect on the bullets we dodge, the comforts we seek, the pain we avoid and seek God’s grace to follow despite the cost.  
Fasting might help with that reflection, prayer certainly will.  Weeping might be a response to where God is calling us to go or move away from, Joel suggests rending our hearts is what matters – tearing our hearts way from what is bad for us and turning to what’s good.  
So if you fast this Lent – great.  Fast and pray to seek where God is calling you to next.  If you give something up this Lent – great – use it to see what else God might be calling you to give up.  If you take something up this Lent – great – what else might God be calling you to take up.  If you wish to express sorrow for your sins this Lent – great; just be honest and not use conditional confessions which mean very little.  
As we journey through these six weeks, with Christians around the world, pray for God’s grace to turn around and see what God is doing and calls you to do.  Let’s pray:
Lord of Lent, help us to give without either counting the cost,
or showing what we’ve given.
Help us to pray, but to pray discretely with humble words and hearts,
to You who know the secrets of our minds.
If we fast, give us grace to do so cheerfully,
and to remember those who have no choice but to be hungry.
Help us, Loving God,  to store up treasures with You in heaven,
that our earth may be full of treasure for those who have nothing. Amen.
Hymn       We Rise Again From Ashes
                  Tom Conry © 1978 OCP Publications One Licence Song No 80978
sung by the choir of Cardinal Carter Catholic High School

We rise again from ashes, 
from the good we’ve failed to do.
We rise again from ashes, 
to create ourselves anew.
If all the world is ashes, 
then must our lives be true,
an offering of ashes, 
an offering to you.
We offer you our failures, 
we offer you attempts,
the gifts not fully given, 
the dreams not fully dreamt.
Give our stumblings direction, 
give our visions wider view
an offering of ashes, 
an offering to you.
Then rise again from ashes, 
let healing come to pain,
though spring has turned to winter, 
and sunshine turned to rain,
the rain we’ll use for growing 
and create the world anew
from an offering of ashes, 
an offering to you.
Thanks be to the Father, 
who made us like Himself,
thanks be to His Son, 
who saved us by His death;
thanks be to the Spirit, 
who creates the world anew,
from an offering of ashes, 
an offering to you.

We come to You, O Most High,
with the tang of ash in our mouths and lives,
conscious of our sins, tasting as bitter wormwood:
the times we’ve failed to love,
the times we’ve failed to act,
the times we’ve failed to apologise,
all drag us down and haunt our minds.
We remember the times when we’ve hated our bodies,
when we’ve denied ourselves for no good reason,
for when we’ve not used our resources wisely
         causing others to fast due to poverty not passion.
Give us the time and grace, Most High, to turn around,
to rise from our ashes and be created anew,
to find direction despite our stumbling,
and to make our ashen lives an offering to You.  Amen
Assurance of Forgiveness
The Most High, source of all mercy and goodness,
has, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, 
reconciled the world and sent the Holy Spirit among us 
for the forgiveness of sins; 
through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace.
Know that you are forgiven,
have the courage to forgive others
and the strength to forgive yourself.  Amen.
Hymn       Jesus Invites His Saints
                  Isaac Watts, Public Domain, Sung by Phil and Lythan Nevard

Jesus invites his saints to meet around his board;
here pardoned rebels sit, and hold communion with their Lord.
For food he gives his flesh, and bids us drink his blood;
amazing favour, matchless grace of our descending God!
This holy bread and wine maintains our fainting breath,
by union with our living Lord, and int’rest in his death.
Our heavenly Father calls Christ and his members one:
we the young children of his love, and he the first-born Son.


We are but several parts of the same broken bread;
one body hath its several limbs, but Jesus is the head.
Let all our powers be joined his glorious name to raise;
pleasure and love fill every mind and every voice be praise.
Holy Communion
The Lord be with you.     And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.          We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.
God of all goodness and grace,
we have gathered to be bluntly reminded of our mortality.
You formed us from dust and to dust we shall return.
Even amidst the solemnity of this remembrance,
we give you thanks for calling us your children.
We give you thanks for calling us on this journey.
We remember that we are human and you alone are God.
In this season of Lent, we gather on a journey of trust – 
trust that your creation does not end with our death.
Indeed, your creation knows no boundaries,
and, yet, we are bound inevitably to your will and your Word.  
With all creation, in every time and place,
we join the everlasting chorus:
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.  Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.  Hosanna in the highest.
Standing between past and future,
we remember the journey we will take again
while we wait for that blessed Easter.
We remember Jesus’ birth into poverty.
We remember how he grew up in wisdom and in years – 
     how he invited disciples to follow him,
     how he stood up to the powers that be,
     how he touched the sinner and challenged the saint,
     how he preached good news to the poor and marginalized,
     how he cared as much for people’s bodies as he did their souls.
We remember how he gathered his friends on the night he was betrayed,
how he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying: “take, eat, do this in remembrance of me.”
Likewise, he took the cup and, pouring it, said:
“this is the cup of salvation, shed in my blood, for the forgiveness of sins.
Do this in remembrance of me.”
For as long as we eat this bread and drink this cup,
we proclaim the resurrection of our living saviour until he comes again.
Together, we proclaim the mystery of faith:
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

Gracious God,
we give you thanks for your gifts of bread and wine,
send your Holy Spirit that they may be transformed 
that we might commune with the body and blood of Jesus, our Saviour,
and we ask that these gifts will transform us to your presence.
We give you thanks that, even though we will return to dust,
you nevertheless invite us to this meal as a friend.
Though we are not worthy of the grace received here,
we are invited as the most beloved of companions.
Send your Spirit to abide with us that we may abide with you.
As we prepare to live as your disciples,
hear us as we pray as you taught us to pray, saying:  Our Father
Music During Communion  
Psalm 51 from the Free Church of Scotland’s Psalter Sing Psalms sung by the Bon Accord choir from Trinity Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland. 
Post Communion Prayer
Jesus, holy and strong,
by your fasting and temptation teach us self-denial;
control and discipline us, that we may learn to obey.
Almighty and merciful God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all who are penitent;
create in us new and contrite hearts,
so that when we turn to you and confess our sins
we may receive your full and perfect forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Redeemer.
God of the desert, 
as we follow Jesus into the unknown,
may we recognise the tempter when he comes;
let it be your bread we eat, your world we serve 
and you alone we worship.  Amen
Hymn       Come Down O Love Divine
Bianco da Siena (d.1434) translated Richard Frederick Littledale (1833-1890) (alt.) 
Performed by the Riverside Church Choir, New York used with their kind permission.

Come down, O Love Divine,
seek out this soul of mine,
and visit it with your own ardour glowing;
O Comforter, draw near,
within my heart appear,
and kindle it, your holy flame bestowing.
O let it freely burn, till earthly passions turn
to dust and ashes, in its heat consuming;
and let your glorious light
shine ever on my sight,
and clothe me round, 
the while my path illuming.

And so the yearning strong, with which the soul will long,
shall far outpass the power of human telling;
for none can guess God’s grace,
till love creates a place wherein the Holy Spirit makes a dwelling.
May the One who brings 
new life from ash, 
strength from repentance and
joy from sorrow, 
restore, strengthen, and fill you with joy,
that you be ever more faithful disciples,
and the blessing of Almighty God,
Eternal Majesty,
En-fleshed Word, and
Abiding Presence
be with you now and evermore.

This material is only for use in local churches not for posting to websites or any other use.  Local churches must have copyright licences to allow the printing and projection of words for hymns.


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