Ash Wednesday is the formal “kick-off” to the season of Lent. We start this time of intensive preparation for baptism or realigning our lives with the vows of the baptismal covenant acknowledging our human limitations. We are mortal. We have deeply ingrained habits marked by sin, stained by selfishness, and resistant to our own efforts to change them.
We begin in penitence. Penitence does not mean “feeling sorry” or “feeling guilty,” though these feelings may sometimes accompany the work of penitence. Penitence as we embody it in this service and throughout this season means acknowledging where we are, owning up to it, recognizing we cannot fix ourselves, and seeking God’s mercy and power to renew us in God’s ways.
This service of Ash Wednesday has many moving parts: music, graphics, readings, blessing and imposition of ashes, Communion. There are two things to keep in mind about services with many moving parts: One is the need for rehearsal to ensure that all parts work smoothly together and flow from beginning to end. Keep rehearsing until you need minimal or no verbal cues to move to the next step. The other is with as much ritual action as this service holds, less is more when it comes to additional words. Focus on nonverbal actions, and leave good space for silence. Let the words of Scripture, songs, and prayers be the primary verbalized parts. This is why we have placed the sermon in brackets in the order of worship. You may decide you do not need a sermon.
Finally, as people depart in silence, consider giving them a list of the formation groups and Courageous Conversation opportunities and where and when they meet during the coming weeks, with a note to pray for all people who are seeking Christ or a deeper knowledge of him through this season.