Ash Wednesday, Narrative Lectionary

Ash Wednesday liturgy, Narrative Lectionary Year 4

(The Narrative Lectionary texts are Psalm 23 and John 10:1-18, to which I have added Ezekiel 34:11-16. I’m happy to share this; just let me know in the comments where you are using it.)

Call to Worship
One: You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, says the Lord God.
All: The Lord is our Shepherd.
One: Even as we walk through the darkest valleys, we fear no evil.
All: The Lord is our Shepherd.
One: God calls us to holiness.
All: The Lord is our Shepherd.
One: God calls us to wholeness.
All: The Lord is our Shepherd.
One: Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
All: The Lord is our Shepherd. We shall not want.

Hymn “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need” (or My Shepherd is the Living God)

Opening Prayer (Unison) – Divine Shepherd, you guide us on a life-giving path. You know the way to the water that sustains. You lead us to pastures where our souls will be filled. You urge us to enter through the gate and follow you. Bring us through, we pray. Bring us through in Christ’s name. Amen.

Hebrew Bible Lesson Ezekiel 34:11-16
Gospel Lesson John 10:1-18

(Homily – Optional)

Invitation to Confession – The Gospel of John never sends Jesus to the wilderness, so we may feel a bit lost beginning Lent without the usual images of temptation and fasting. But isn’t this world a wilderness? Aren’t we the wanderers, perplexed about where to go next?

Jesus invites us to follow him, to enter through the gate into his care. What stops us? Why do we hesitate?

The apostle Paul wrote to one of the earliest churches, “God did not call us to impurity but to holiness.” (1 Thessalonians 4:7) God did not call us to brokenness but to wholeness. God did not call us to isolation but to community with each other in the care of our loving Savior.

What if we thought of Ash Wednesday as the gate into 40 days of living in God’s pasture? Imagine 40 days of holiness and wholeness in a community of love.

In this time of reflection, we will consider the reasons we give for staying outside the enclosure. On the slip of paper in your bulletin, write down the things that stop you, the responsibilities, the concerns, the doubts and fears, even the excuses. We will leave these papers in a basket/box/bowl (whatever works in your setting) when we come forward for the imposition of ashes.

Time of Silent Reflection

Unison Psalter Reading Psalm 23

A bowl I've used for similar purposes
A bowl I’ve used for similar purposes

Imposition of Ashes
Each year we mark ourselves with the ashes of last year’s palms. The repetition reminds us that our spiritual lives never reach a conclusion; we are continually able to learn and grow, to go deeper in our relationship with God. Come forward as a commitment to enter through the gate, and to live in God’s holy pasture during these 40 days.

Words for imposition: “Come through the gate, marked as God’s own.”

Hymn “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us”

Go out into the world, members of God’s flock, safe in the care of our Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Things you need:
• a box, bowl or basket and a small table to hold it near the place you are imposing ashes; also, ashes!
• prepared half-sheets of paper
• pens or pencils that function available in the pews
• a good sense of how secretive your community is! I’ve done something like this with a box covered in wrapping paper with a small opening in the top, but if you are in a more trusting setting, a basket or bowl would be fine.

Extra music: If you have a musician to play during the time of reflection, instrumental music would be okay. If you have a choir that always sings on Ash Wednesday, I would suggest inserting special music after the Opening Prayer and before the scripture readings to keep the flow going. Feel free to adapt or elaborate on the Invitation to Confession. What I have included is intended as a spark, although you may certainly use it “as is.”

38 thoughts on “Ash Wednesday liturgy, Narrative Lectionary Year 4”

  1. Martha, I came over from RevGals and really enjoy your liturgy. I’m not sure yet exactly what we will be doing ash Wed, but may use this as inspiration over in my corner of Huntsville, AL.

  2. Thank you for sharing this, Martha. I’m in my first year using NL so this really helps. I will be using it at a joint service for the UCC and Moravian congregations in PIttsville, WI.

  3. Thank you, Martha, for your generosity in permitting us to use this wonderful service. I will be using parts of it in our Ash Wednesday service.

  4. Thank you for this gift. At Balzac United Church, near Calgary, AB, Canada has a special tradition of meeting for Pancakes first, then the burning of last yr’s palms, and then the Ash Wednesday Service. It is a wonderful & special time. I will be using your liturgy. Blessings to you!

    1. Rita, one of my favorite Ash Wednesdays was in a church that did the pancakes that night, too. May the whole evening be a blessing.

  5. Dear MArtha, Thank you for a gentle and affirmaing Ash Wenesday Liturgy. I particularly like the words of the Imposition of Ashes. I will be using at least that part if not the liturgy as a whole at a Regional gathering of the Uniting Church, Australia, in Portland, Victoria.

  6. Dear Martha: Thank you so much for designing this. I was running out of time and this is a wonderful gift. I will be using in a Moravian congregation in Staten Island. Maggie Wellert

  7. My teeny-tiny congregation doesn’t muster for an Ash Weds service (though we are very devoted to our Maundy Thursday service a few weeks later…), so I won’t be using your work on this liturgy in any obvious way. That said, I can already feel what I’ve read here shaping my personal lenten anticipation and know that your work will impact the way “my” people experience Lent this year even though they won’t know why or how. Thank you.

    1. Glad it was a helpful set of thoughts, Susie. My UCC experience has been a mixture of “Never heard of it” and “wouldn’t miss it!”

  8. Thank you for sharing this lovely service. It is very kind of you to share it. Sometimes, one needs a little new inspiration. I will utilize it with some small adaptations on Ash Wednesday. Blessings and peace!

  9. Love the words for the imposition of ashes. Will use that and maybe adapt some of the rest for my service in Louisville, KY

  10. Thanks, Martha! I’ll be using portions of the liturgy, too.

  11. Dear Martha,
    Thank you for this liturgy! I will be officiating at three Ash Wednesday Services tomorrow. Two, for my Union (UCC & Lutheran) church setting which have been handed down from past traditions. The third Service is sandwiched in between the noon and the 7:00 and is brand new to me. I provided a “Spirituality Workshop” weekly for a local recovery Center. Last week some of the residents asked if we could have Communion (juice only, of course) this week. I asked if they wanted me to bring ashes and they were really excited. I ahve been looking for something a little different and you have provided it. God bless you!!!!
    Candi Cain-Borgman

  12. I add my thanks and we will be using it in Cozad, Nebraska. I did adapt the paper ritual asking them to tear it into pieces as a sign of their intention during Lent (and beyond) and those will be placed into a bowl and then the ashes.

  13. Thank you for your liturgy and worship ideas, we will be using parts of your liturgy at Joy Lutheran in Eagle River, Alaska

  14. We will be using this in our Ash Wednesday service this evening at Trinity Lutheran in Forman, ND. Thank you so much for the beautiful words and for the inspiration they provided for the rest of our service.

  15. Thank you so much for this. It was part of a beautiful service tonight.

  16. Thank you for the beautiful Ash Wednesday liturgy. We are using the prayers and readings for our Ash Wednesday service at Hayward Wesleyan Church in northern Wisconsin.

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