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Ash Wednesday

The Season of Lent
February 17, 2021


The season of Lent commences this week with Ash Wednesday — the ashes traditionally made from the discarded, dried up, burned up palm branches that were picked up from last year’s Palm Sunday chants and lauds. Like those disabused fronds, many of our well-intentioned praises and resolutions also dry up and are neglected unless they are planted and nurtured.

This Ash Wednesday is beleaguered by a winter weather disaster in much of the nation which is already mired in a pandemic now entering its second year, and still reeling from the nation’s capitol being ransacked by hate run amok.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure where to begin my prayer this year. I like the words of the Anglican contemplative nun, Sister Jane, who advises: “As we begin to pray, we can ask to be reminded that God prays in us first.”

May the Spirit of God nurture prayer through us, may we pray through God’s Spirit, and may the tracks of Jesus (whose life was prayer), be planted in our hearts. Amen.

Here are some traditional resources for a service of Ash Wednesday prayer.

COLOR: Purple

  • Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 (Return to the Lord, your God with all your heart)
  • Psalm 51:1-17 (Create in me a clean heart, O God)
  • 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10 (Be reconciled. Now is the day of salvation)
  • Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 (Let your practice of faith be genuine, your treasure is in heaven)

THEMES: Return (Repent), Reconciliation, Prayer, Priorities

Musical Recommendations
(Hymns and Anthems)

Hymn Suggestions:

Change My Heart, O God (CHANGE MY HEART) — Joel, Psalms
Forgive Our Sins as We Forgive (DETROIT; MORNING SONG) — 2 Corinthians
The Glory of These Forty Days (ERHALT UNS, HERR) — Joel, Matthew
Standing in the Need of Prayer (PENITENT) — Matthew
Just As I Am (WOODWORTH) — Psalms, Matthew
Lift High the Cross (CRUCIFER) — Ash Wednesday
Lord, I Want to Be a Christian (LORD, I WANT TO BE A CHRISTIAN) — Joel, Matthew
Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days (ST. FLAVIAN) — Ash Wednesday
Near to the Heart of God (MCAFEE) — Matthew
O For a Closer Walk with God (BEATITUDE; CAITHNESS) — Psalms
O For a Heart to Praise My God (AZMON; LAND OF REST; RICHMOND) — Joel
Rock of Ages (TOPLADY) — Psalms
Take Time to Be Holy (HOLINESS) — Matthew
Take Up Your Cross, The Savior Said (BOURBON) — Matthew
What Wondrous Love is This (WONDROUS LOVE) — 2 Corinthians


E = Easy, M = Moderate, MD = Moderately Difficult

Breathe On Me, Breath of God — M — Joel
Philip Wilby
© 2007, RCCM, GIA Publications, G-8197
SATB, Solo, Organ

Create a Pure Heart in Me — E — Psalms
Susan Matsui
© 2012, St. James Music,
SAB, Organ

Create In Me a Clean Heart, O God — E — Psalms
Carl F. Mueller
© 1941, G. Schirmer, No. 8682
SATB, Organ (also avail. in SAB, SSA, TTBB)

Create In Me, O God — M — Psalms
Johannes Brahms
Various publishers and Public Domain, CPDL #00047
SATBB, a cappella

Forgive Our Sins as We Forgive — E — Matthew
DETROIT/David Ashley White, arr.
© 1998, Selah Publishing, 410-611
2-Part (Any), Keyboard

God of Mercy — M — Psalms
Patricia Mock/Faye Lopez, arr.
© 2019, Wilds Christian Assoc., 19-3908
SATB, Piano (opt. Cello)

Lenten Proclamation — E — Joel, 2 Corinthians
James Chepponis
© 1984, GIA Publications, G-2761
3-Part, Handbells

Lord, For Thy Tender Mercy’s Sake — M — Psalms
Richard Farrant/Michael Burkhardt, ed.
Various publishers and Public Domain, CPDL #06234
SATB, a cappella

Lord, Have Mercy — M — Psalms
César Franck/Hal H. Hopson, arr.
© 1991, GIA Publications, G-3424
2-Part Mixed, Keyboard

Love and Mercy — E — Psalms
Walter Pelz
© 2006, Augsburg Fortress, 978-0-8006-3869-6
SATB, Keyboard, C-Instrument

View Me, Lord — MD — Joel
Jackson Berkey
© 1996, SDG Press, SDG-112
SSA, Solo, Piano


The Day Is Coming — E — 2 Corinthians
Mark A. Miller
© 2017, Choristers Guild, CGA 1524
SATB, Solo, Piano

Worship Resources
(Liturgies, Prayers, Quotes)


Sometimes with
the bones of the black
sticks left when the fire
has gone out

someone has written
something new
in the ashes
of your life.

— DAVID WHYTE, from “The Journey,”
in The House of Belonging


(from Peter Traben Haas, Centering Prayers)

Spirit of God:
The ashen mark upon my forehead, now washed clean,
remains in my heart as a symbol of my emptiness
and my need for you.
   Hungry, I can be fed.
   Empty, I can be filled.
   Barren, I can give birth.
And what is feeding, filling, and birthing in me but the incarnation of love itself?
This is the unyielding power of Jesus Christ birthing in me something new. Amen.


(from Psalm 51)

O God, from whom no secrets are hid, you know me.
Create in me a clean heart, O Gracious One.
Put a new and right spirit within me.
Draw me near to your presence.
Restore to me the joy of your saving grace.
Invigorate me with your renewing spirit.
O Gracious One, open my mouth
and my tongue will announce your praise.


(Based upon Joel 2 and Matthew 6)

Lord, yet even now you say:
Return to me with all your heart.

God of truth, when you admonished us to be aware of how we wear our piety, whether it is too tight or too bright, whether genuine or merely an act for others to see, we must have thought you were talking to somebody else, because we tend to hear all of your “bewares” like that. But the truth is, we are too often entirely concerned more about appearances than being genuine in our actions. Lord, yet even now you say:

Return to me with all your heart.

God of generosity, when you said that what we do for “the least of these,” we do for you, we failed to see how deep is our own impoverishment by overlooking our utter dependency on your daily grace. So when you mentioned giving alms, we readily signed on because it sounds cheap and affordable to give a little here and there. You want us to be willing to give everything away, but are worried about percentages. Lord, yet even now you say:

Return to me with all your heart.

God of community, you hear our every prayer. You desire to have an unceasing heart-connection with us that doesn’t blink off and on every time someone says, “Amen,” or “Dear Lord…” as we go about our way. As if prayer were a light switch. You say that real religious observances are private between you and each of us individually. But too often, we take roll, or measure our spiritual lives against the outward expressions of others. Lord, yet even now you say:

Return to me with all your heart.

God of heart, you know us better than we know ourselves, and when you say “return,” you add that we bring everything that we want to keep. Help us to hear you as even now you say:

Return to me with all your heart.


(Joel 2:3)

Listen, that you might live: The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.
In the name of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven! Thanks be to God.


+ + +


In thy word, Lord, is my trust, to thy mercies fast I fly;
Though I am but clay and dust, yet thy grace can lift me high.
— THOMAS CAMPION (1567-1620)


Eternal God of love,
you free us from our own imprisonment,
you bring healing for our illnesses,
you put our sin behind you,
you are accustomed to dust,
you show us it is not the end,
you confirm and strengthen us,
in goodness, you keep us in life eternal,
in and through Jesus Christ
who bore the cost of love
and endured to the end.


God of the Desert,
we can journey confidently into Lent,
following Christ, who leads into the unknown.
We may resist the temptations that will come our way,
knowing it is your bread that we eat,
your world that we serve,
and you alone whom we worship. Amen.

(This and the previous prayer freely adapted from Jim Cotter)


Except where noted, these resources were written by Warren Howell, editor of Faithelement Resources for Worship. He serves as Music Director of South Frankfort Presbyterian Church, Frankfort, Kentucky.