The Fast We Choose

Learning to Live Inside Out

Ash Wednesday, Year A

Ash Wednesday is an inside-out act of worship. We come and confess and are reminded of both our sinfulness and our mortality. And yet we are given a visible mark in the imposition of ashes, a way of letting the world know that we are people of faith.

Psalm 51:1-17, Prayer for Cleansing and Pardoning

Note to the Teacher

An important part of the journey of our Lenten devotion falls on our observance of Ash Wednesday. Sure, days like Ash Wednesday and Good Friday may not be as cheery as the celebration that comes with the resurrection, but a wise mentor of mine reminded me once that you can’t have Easter Sunday without going through Good Friday, and I believe the same to be true with Ash Wednesday. We can’t experience the full joy of resurrection and forgiveness of sins without the lamentations that come with Ash Wednesday when we acknowledge that we are in desperate need of the resurrection. The Ice Breaker invites youth to be active and become comfortable with one another through being a little silly. The Discussion encourages students to think about Ash Wednesday in a way that is not all somber and only about self-denial, but that it’s also really a hopeful start to our Lenten journey. The activity allows youth to experience what sin can do when we let it imprison us and see the liberation that comes from repentance. Times are based on a 50-minute lesson period but can be adjusted.

Description of activity (time)

1. Ice Breaker: Secret Dancer (10 minutes)

Intro to game: This is fun game that gets people laughing, moving, and gets rid of nerves as well. The object of the game is that someone will be designated as “it” and they will try to identify who the secret dancer is. Everyone in the room besides the person who is “it” will be dancing, but they all must follow the lead of the secret dancer. They change dance moves, everyone else changes their dance moves to match the secret dancer.

How to play: Have your small group stand in a circle. You pick one person to be “it” and to leave the room momentarily while you assign someone the role of the secret dancer. Once you have assigned the secret dancer, have them start leading the group with a dance move while you invite the person who is “it” to come into the middle of the circle and try to guess who the secret dancer is. You can let them guess until they find out or limit them to three guesses, so the secret dancer has a chance to stump the guesser. You can repeat this for a couple of rounds.

2. Read Scripture (5 minutes)

Our Scripture reading has to do with a prayer found in the Psalms that is a lamentation of sorts, acknowledging the author’s sin and iniquity and asking for God to cleanse the author and make them new.

Read Psalm 51: 1-17.

3. Discussion (15 minutes)

What emotions do think best describe the prayer that this psalmist was lifting to God in this scripture?

  • When was a time that you thought to yourself “Oh geez, I really messed this one up”? (This can be in anything: relationships, school, work, family, etc.) Did you do anything to fix what you messed up?
  • We read in verse 5; “Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.” Do you think acknowledging that we are sinners from birth is supposed to deter us from pursuing grace, and why?
  • God is in the business of reconciliation, otherwise meaning that he wants to mend what is broken and make it whole. Our sinful nature has caused a broken relationship with God, and he sent down his son Jesus as an atoning sacrifice to reconcile us back to him.
    • In your own life, is it hard to take the first step and reconcile a broken friendship or relationship?
  • Ultimately how does reconciliation feel after what was broken has been fixed and made right again?
  • What about when we are the one that is clearly in the wrong? What can get in the way of our ability to reconcile things when it’s all our fault? (embarrassment, pride, fear, etc.)
  • When we are the one who have caused wrong, we must repent for reconciliation to take place. Repenting means acknowledging our wrong/sin and turning away from it and accepting the grace God offers.
    • For you is it more difficult to offer grace or to repent? Why?
  • Since most people don’t find joy in admitting they’re wrong, Ash Wednesday is more of a somber day in our Lenten journey, but it is NOT meant to oppress us. In fact, the act of repenting from our sin can liberate us from that very same sin!
    • Read the Psalm 51:1-17 scripture again and this time see how many times they can identify the points the psalmist is full of hope and faith in God and his ability.
      • Here are a few if they’re struggling (verse 1 “steadfast love, abundant mercy”, verse 8 “hearing joy and gladness, rejoicing,”, verse 10 “create in me a clean heart”, and so on).

4. Activity and Discussion (20 minutes)

Let’s add a visual lesson to show how much sin can weigh us down if we harbor it instead of repent from it. Give every student three strips of paper, you are going to connect the strips in a paper chain so cut out your strips accordingly. On their strips they will write down different sins they can think of that Christians struggle with (they can be personal, but this way it’s a little more anonymous).

As they finish have them come up and start stapling the strips together into a chain. After all the strips have been attached to the chain ask if anyone would like to share one of the sins they added to the chain.

Tell them about how when we isolate each sin (each link of the chain) it doesn’t seem like much, but when we look at the big picture of sin (the entire chain) we see how it creates this chained shackle. Ask, “how does our sin act as shackles that keep us imprisoned from the full glory of God’s love?

Hold up the chain and tell them that Ash Wednesday is about acknowledging the chain that keeps us from God. We acknowledge and say, “God, we don’t want this sin anymore. Break me free and create in me a clean heart” (break the chain by tearing it in two).

For the closing to this exercise turn on some subtle and contemplative worship music (as you are able) and invite students to find a place in the room and pray individually for God to break the chains of sin that imprison them and for the spirit to guide them through the rest of their Lenten journey to Easter Sunday. You can end after they individually pray. You can also close the group in a collective prayer after a few moments.

50 minutes

Needed resources:

  • Strips of paper
  • Stapler
  • Pens/pencils
  • Scissors to cut the strips of paper.

In This Series...

Ash Wednesday, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes First Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Second Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Third Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes


  • Purple

In This Series...

Ash Wednesday, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes First Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Second Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Third Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes