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Sermon and Liturgy for Ash Wednesday - Year C
Joel 2:12-18; Psalm 51; II Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Matthew 6:1-6,16-18
"Rend Your Hearts"


READING:  Joel 2:12-18; Psalm 51; II Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Matthew 6:1-6,16-18
SERMON :  "Rend Your Hearts"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
b-ashwsu.y-c 920

  Sources:   Much of the liturgy is best described as traditional (Roman
   and Anglican). The Eucharistic Prayer is adapted from the Book of Common
   Worship ¸1993 Westminster /  John Knox Press.  Certain petitions in the
   Prayers of the People are from John Maynard "Prayers And Litanies For Ash
   Wednesday" as sent to the PRCL List in February 2001.  The feasting-
   fasting litany in the sermon came from a posting on the Net whose source
   is lost to us. 
   

                          GATHERING BEFORE GOD

*  WORDS OF WELCOME AND PRAYER OF APPROACH
L  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, 
   and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
P  And also with you.
L  Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Gospel and saying, "The time is
   fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent ye and believe the
   Gospel."  He also said: "I have come that you might have life, and have
   that abundantly."
P  We come before God tonight to hear God's word, to confess our sins, 
   and to ask God to strengthen us in our faith that we might live more
   holy lives.
L  Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made - and
   forgive the sins of all who are penitent.  Create and make in us new
   and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins may obtain of
   you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness;  through
   Jesus Christ our Lord.
P  Most Holy and merciful God, 
   we confess to you, to one another, 
   and to the whole communion of saints in heaven and on earth, 
   that we have sinned against you by our own fault 
   in thought, word and deed; 
   by what we have done and by what we have left undone.  
   We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength.  
   We have not loved neighbours as ourselves.  
   (.......... silent prayer ..........)
        
* Kyrie Eleison
L  Lord, have mercy.
P  Lord, have mercy.
L  Christ, have mercy.
P  Christ have mercy.
L  Lord, have mercy.
P  Christ, have mercy.

* Absolution
L  Hear the good news: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. 
   He gave power to his disciples to declare and pronounce to his people,
   being penitent, the absolution and remission of their sins.  I declare
   to you, therefore, that God is just, and may be trusted to forgive your
   sins and cleanse you from every kind of wrong.
P  Thanks be to God for his love and mercy.

 
* HYMN:    "Spirit of The Living God"                              - VU 376


                             THE WORD OF GOD
      
A READING FROM JOEL 2:12-18:

   A Reading From the Book of The Prophet Joel

   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?'" 

   Then the LORD became jealous for his land, and had pity on his
   people.

L  This is the Word of The Lord.          
P   Thanks be to God.


RESPONSIVE READING:  Psalm 51 (Voices United 776-7 and sung response)


A READING FROM II CORINTHIANS 5:20 - 6:2:

   A Reading From Paul's Second Letter To The Corinthians:

   So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal
   through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 
   For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we
   might become the righteousness of God.  As we work together with him,
   we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain.  For he says,
   "At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of
   salvation I have helped you." 

   See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!

L  This is the Word of The Lord.          
P  Thanks be to God.


HYMN:   "What Does The Lord Require of You" (twice)                - VU 701

     
A READING FROM MATTHEW 6:1-6,16-18:
       
   A Reading From The Holy Gospel According To Matthew

   "Beware of practising 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."

L  This is the gospel of our Risen Lord.     
P  Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

  
AN ASH WEDNEDSAY HOMILY:   "Rend Your Hearts"

   May God, creator of heaven and earth, and Father of our Lord Jesus,
   bless the words of my lips and the meditations of our hearts.  Amen.

The Jewish Hasidic tradition teaches that everyone should have two pockets
in their coats with two slips of paper.  One slip says: "I am only dust and
ashes."  The other "For me the whole universe was created."  

Sometimes we need to remember that first slip of paper, as we have done and
will do tonight as we come to be marked with the ashes of repentance, and
sometimes we also need to remember the second - to remember that we have
been adopted by God in Christ - that through him God forgives us - and
makes us joint heirs with Christ of all that has been made.  This also we
will do tonight as we receive the sacrament of God's love for us in Christ
Jesus.  

Sorrow and joy.  Repentance and forgiveness.  
   Humility and joyful confidence  Fasting and Feasting,
These are the poles around which our life in Christ revolve,
   these are the things that need to speak to one another in our hearts
   and our minds and our souls,
the things that the Holy Spirit seeks to animate within us as she fulfils
her role of both convicting and comforting us, and leading us in holiness
and righteousness to the springs of living water prepared for us from the
beginning of time.

And never more so in Lent - 
the season in which we are especially called to remember the sacrifice
Jesus made for us on the cross,
the season in which we are specially called to prepare ourselves for both
his death - and his resurrection,
knowing as we do so that as we die with him - so also we will rise with
him.

Tonight is the beginning of the season of Lent, 
the beginning of the season in which we are called to a holy fast 
and to a contemplation of the mystery of our faith - that mystery summed up
in the words
   
   Christ has died, 
   Christ has risen
   Christ will come again.

And in the words:

"I am only dust and ashes." 
"For me the whole universe was created."  

As we embrace both these statements tonight,
   - as we have both sorrow over our sins and joy over our salvation,
   - as we are marked with the ashes of mortality and repentance 
   and eat the bread of forgiveness and drink the wine of eternal life
   - as we humble ourselves to live as lowly servants and hear in joy we
   are the beloved children of God,
I call you to a holy fast - and a holy feast in each of the days of this season,
a fast in which we rend our hearts and not our garments,
   one in which we act as ambassadors for Christ, and allow God to make
   his appeal through us to the world.

Fast from worry, and feast on divine order by trusting in God.
Fast from complaining, and feast on appreciation.
Fast from negatives, and feast on affirmatives.

Fast from unrelenting pressures, and feast on unceasing prayer.
Fast from hostility, and feast on tenderness.
Fast from bitterness, and feast on forgiveness.
Fast from self-concern, and feast on compassion for others.

Fast from the shadows of sorrow, and feast on the sunlight of serenity.
Fast from idle gossip, and feast on purposeful silence.
Fast from judging others, and feast on the Christ within them.

Fast from emphasis on differences, and feast on the unity of life.
Fast from apparent darkness, and feast on the reality of  light.

Fast from thoughts of illness, and feast on the healing power of God.
Fast from words that pollute, and feast on the phrases that purify.
Fast from discontent, and feast on gratitude.

Fast from anger, and feast on optimism.
Fast from personal anxiety, and feast on eternal truth.
Fast from discouragement, and feast on hope.

Fast from facts that depress, and feast on verities that uplift.
Fast from lethargy, and feast on enthusiasm.
Fast from suspicion, and feast on truth.

Fast from thoughts that weaken, and feast on promises that inspire.
Fast from problems that overwhelm, and feast on prayer that undergirds.

Or in the words concerning fasting by St. John Chrysostom, 
words concerning holy living and the fasts that we observe to help make us
more holy:

   "Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works. 
   If you see a poor man, take pity on him. 
   If you see a friend being honoured, do not envy him. 

   Do not let only your mouth fast, 
   but also the eye and the ear and the feet and the hands 
     and all the members of our bodies. 

   Let the hands fast, by being free of avarice.
   Let the feet fast, by ceasing to run after sin.
   Let the eyes fast, by disciplining them not to glare at that which is
     sinful.
   Let the ear fast, by not listening to evil talk and gossip.
   Let the mouth fast from foul words and unjust criticism.

   For what good is it if we abstain from birds and fishes, but bite and
   devour our brothers?

   May He who came to the world to save sinners,  strengthen us to
   complete the fast with humility, have mercy on us and save us."   

Amen.


                   BLESSING AND DISTRIBUTION OF ASHES

        -- Ashes are made from Palm Leaves and Crosses from last
       year's Palm Sunday Procession  Mixed now with water from the
       River Jordan - where Jesus was baptised. --

L  Lord, bless the sinner who asks for your forgiveness and bless all
   those who receive these ashes.  May they keep this Lenten Season in
   preparation for the joy of Easter.
P  Almighty God, from the dust of the earth you have created us. May these
   ashes be for us a sign of our mortality and penitence, and a reminder
   that only by your gracious gift are we given eternal life; through
   Christ Jesus our Saviour.   Amen.
         
        -- Those wishing to receive ashes come forward and be signed
       with ashes and the words: "Remember you are dust, and to dust
       you shall return". -- 
   

                         PRAYERS OF THE FAITHFUL
                                    
L  Let us pray to the Lord.
P  May our prayer be acceptable to God, our Rock and our Redeemer.
L  Accomplish in us, O God, the work of your salvation 
   that we may show forth your glory in the world.
P  By the cross and passion of your Son, our Lord,  
   Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.

       - various intercessions ending with "Lord hear our prayer" and
       response "And in your love, answer"

Father in heaven, the greatness of Your love is beyond words to describe. 
By the power of Your Spirit, liberate us from all self centeredness, that
we may be free to love others as Christ loves us.... Lord hear our
prayer....

Lord God of Hosts: Make of us pilgrims throughout these forty days.  Lead
us through discipline to discipleship, through fasting to feasting, through
privation to freedom.  Free us from our own struggles, so that we may more
fully serve one another....  Lord hear our prayer....

Loving Master and faithful friend - help us to be obedient and joyful,
humble and caring, merciful and loving.  Anchor us in your live giving word
and make us radiant for you - fitting ambassadors of your message of
reconciliation.....   Lord, hear our prayer....

Father of all mercy - as we work together with Christ, help us to not to
accept your grace in vain, but to remember that now is the day of
salvation, and to call upon you and serve you as you desire..... we ask
these things in his most glorious name.  Amen


                          THE TABLE OF THE LORD

* SHARING THE PEACE:
   L  The peace of the Lord be always with you
   P  And also with you

            
* HYMN:  "Dust And Ashes Touch Our Face"                           - VU 105
          
         
COMMUNION LITANY
L  The peace of the Lord be with you.
P  And also with you.
L  Lift up your hearts.
P  We lift them up to the Lord.
L  Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
P  It is right to give God thanks and praise.

L  It is truly right to give you thanks and praise, for you are the
   eternal God, creator and ruler of the universe.  You are our God, and
   we are the creatures of your hand.  You made us from the dust of the
   earth, breathed into us the breath of life, and set us in your world to
   love and serve you.  When we rejected your love and ignored your
   wisdom, you did not reject us. You loved us still and called us to turn
   again to you in obedience and in  love. Therefore we praise you,
   joining our voices with the heavenly choirs and with all the faithful
   of every time and place, who forever sing to the glory of your name: 
      
P  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.
        
L  You are holy, O God of majesty, and blessed is Christ Jesus, your Son,
   our Lord.  Out of your great love for the world, you sent Jesus among
   us to set us free from the tyranny of evil.  He lived as one of us,
   sharing our joys and sorrows.  By his dying and rising, he releases us
   from bondage to sin and frees us from the dominion of death.  
           
   Therefore we give you thanks and remember how the Lord Jesus, on the
   night before he died, took bread, and after giving thanks to you, as we
   now thank you for this bread, he broke it, and gave it to his
   disciples, saying: "Take, eat. This is my body, broken for you.".  In
   the same way he took the cup, the cup of blessing, and gave it to his
   disciples, saying: "This is my blood, the blood of the new covenant for
   the forgiveness of sin, poured out for you.  Whenever you drink of it,
   do this in remembrance of me."
   
L  Gracious God, pour out your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these your
   gifts of bread and wine, that the bread we break and the cup we bless
   may be communion in the body and blood of Christ Jesus.  By your Spirit
   unite us with the living Christ and with all who are baptized in his
   name and lead us by the power of your Spirit to live as the Lord
   requires: to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with you,
   our God.  Indeed keep our eyes fixed on Christ Jesus until this mortal
   life is ended, and all that is earthly returns to dust, and with the
   redeemed of all the ages we feast with you at your table in glory.  We
   ask it in his name, singing together the prayer he taught us: 

The Lord's Prayer (sung)


- DISTRIBUTION OF THE ELEMENTS (coming forward)

      
DEPARTING PRAYER
L  God of compassion, through your son Jesus Christ you reconciled your
   people to yourself.
P  Following his example of prayer and fasting, may we obey you with
   willing hearts, and serve one another in holy love, through Jesus
   Christ our Lord.  Amen

         
* HYMN:  "Take My Life And Let It Be"                              - VU 506

        
* BENEDICTION AND THREEFOLD AMEN:  
Go in peace, love and care for one another in the name of Christ,
and may the God of peace make you holy in every way and keep your whole
being - spirit, soul, and body  free from every fault at the coming of our
Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen. 


* CHORAL BLESSING:  "Go Now In Peace"                              - VU 964
           

                     +   +    +    +   +   +
                                      
The service tonight is in a form that closely follows that of most churches
which observe this night - including  the order of events, the prayers, the
readings, and the celebration of the Lord's Supper.  Ashes are the
traditional sign of sorrow and repentance and are also a sign of
"mortality".  They are normally prepared from the palm leaves and crosses
used in worship during the previous years "Palm Sunday" - thus reminding us
of the briefness of human fame and how quickly we can go from celebrating
Christ's love and power to participating in those acts which lead to his
crucifixion.  Receiving the sacrament tonight reminds us that God's love is
triumphant over sin and death, and that God remains "in communion" with us,
that in Christ, our mortality is overcome. 


copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 2001 - 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.



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