Ash Wednesday is not just a time to meditate on our mortality or to confess our individual sin and failings, but it is also a time when we should focus on our social sins and sins against other people in the things we have done and the things we should have done and the things we left undone.
Ash Wednesday is a time when we are reminded that in the Lenten Discipline God’s desires for us have nothing to do with what we “give up” but has everything to do with taking on a more disciplined concern for meeting the needs of the afflicted concretely.
Isiah makes it clear that the worship God desires is both inescapably social and compellingly personal. Lent calls us to “loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke… to share our bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless person into our homes…
“Authentic worship is not a matter of elegant ritual of self-congratulatory piety. It is a matter of both social justice and costly personal concern for the bruised and broken world.”
Psalm 51 reminds us that Lent is a time of self-reflection and penitence, a time to acknowledge our sinfulness and the constant need for God’s grace and mercy in our lives and the lives of others.
The Psalm reflects our reality as Christians. We are sinners. We do things that drive us away from God, and we do things that hurt others in our lives.
This time of Lent is to be a time of thoughtful reflection and penitence. Although we practice this all throughout the year, Lent lends itself to a more careful examination. We are called to confess the ways we “have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.” We need to come to the realization of our utter dependence on God.
The recitation of Psalm 51 is a central part of the service of Ash Wednesday as well as a Litany of Penitence or a Prayer of Confession. The Litany and Prayer are reminders to us of the ways we have separated ourselves from God and one another.
Almighty God, we confess that we are often swept up in the tide of our generation. We have failed in our calling to be your holy people, a people set apart for your divine purpose. We live more in apathy born of fatalism than in passion born of hope. We are moved more by private ambition than by social justice. We dream more of privilege and benefits than of service and sacrifice. We try to speak in your name without relinquishing our glories, without nourishing our souls, without relying wholly on your grace. Help us to make room in our hearts and lives for you. Forgive us, revive us, and reshape us in your image. Amen.
May the Almighty and merciful God, who desires not the death of a sinner but that we turn from wickedness and live, accept your repentance, forgive your sins, and restore you by the Holy Spirit to newness of life. Amen.
The culmination of the Service of Ash Wednesday is the imposition of ashes with the minister making the sign of the cross on each forehead with the words, “Remember thou art dust and to dust thou shall return.”
Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth. Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, so that we may remember that only by your gracious gift are we given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
As we begin this season of self-reflection let us follow the Psalmists example by focusing on how we are failing to live as God calls us to live and how we are in constant need of salvation and redemption that can only come from God.