Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

A Service of Penitence and Devotion
Calvin Institute of Christian Worship ^ | 1987 / 1993 | Harry Boonstra

Posted on 02/22/2007 4:11:20 PM PST by Titanites

Ash Wednesday
2 Peter 1:3-5, 23-25

            The Lenten Season really begins on Ash Wednesday. Perhaps your congregation has a long history (or a short one) of marking Ash Wednesday. Or perhaps you have not observed it previously and wonder about beginning it this year. We recommend it as a very rich and meaningful way to begin the Lenten season. To answer questions you or others in your church may have about the tradition, we are reproducing excerpts from articles written by Harry Boonstra that appeared in Reformed Worship 6 (December 1987) and 30 (December 1993). Reprinted by permission of CRC Publications, Grand Rapids, MI (

Why Wednesday?

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. The early church determined that the Lenten period of fasting and renewal should correspond to Christ's fasting (Matthew 4:2), and by counting forty days back from Easter (excluding Sundays, which remain “feast” days), arrived at the Wednesday seven weeks before Easter.

At one time Lent was primarily viewed as a period during which converts prepared for baptism on Easter Sunday, but later the season became a general time of penitence and renewal for all Christians. And Ash Wednesday became the day that marked the beginning of the Lenten renewal.

Why “Ash”?

Ashes have a long history in biblical and church traditions. In Scripture ashes (dust) symbolize frailty or death (Genesis 18:27), sadness or mourning (Esther 4:3), judgment (Lamentations 3:16), and repentance (Jonah 3:6). Some traditions also have considered ash a purifying or cleansing agent.

All these images are caught up in the church's use of ashes as a symbol appropriate for Lent. In Christ's passion we see God's judgment on evil; in our penitence we express sorrow and repentance for our sins; in our rededication we show that we are purified and renewed.

The ash used in Ash Wednesday worship services is usually the ashes from the palm leaves of the previous year's Palm Sunday celebration. Mixed with water or oil, the ash is carried in a small dish; as the minister goes from person to person, he or she dips a thumb in the ash and makes a cross on each forehead (“imposition”). And to each person the minister says, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return," or, "Repent, and believe the gospel."

The cleansing motif of ashes is reiterated in the psalm reading that follows: “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin” (Psalm 51:2). And the ultimate outcome for the penitent child of God is reflected in the closing prayer: “…that the rest of our life hereafter may be pure and holy, so that at the last we may come to his eternal joy…” (Book of Common Prayer).

Ashes? Yes!

Ashes? Yes, but don't bother coming up if it's only a novelty, only a curious ritual, only a substitute. The prophet Joel says, “It may be O.K. to rend your garments and douse yourself with a bucket of ashes, but if it's only a ritual—don't bother. Rend your hearts, and ask for forgiveness.” Kneel down here, but only if your heart and spirit is submissive to the Lord.

Ashes? Yes, but Make Your Heart Right

Why ashes? When I clean out my fireplace, I get streaks of dirt on my hands, and the dead leftovers get put in the trash. Ashes are inert, dead, dirty. And maybe that's why God's people of old put ashes on their heads—to show that they were mortal and spiritually empty. Ashes became a symbol for the barrenness of their lives, of their need for forgiveness, and of their desire for renewal.

Yes, you may wish to come to have ashes imposed on your head, but remember, probably nothing mysterious or magical or mystical will happen. Rather we do this to show that with God's ancient people, we know in our bones and skin that we, in ourselves, are dead, and we say, “Lord, we repent in dust and ashes. Forgive us. Revive us again.”

Ashes? Yes, but Do Justice

Ashes? Yes, it's the right kind of ritual. But again, don't bother if this is a substitute for living right. The Lord thunders through the prophet Isaiah: I'm tired of your church services, your sermons, your Praise & Worship, your seeker services, your Ash Wednesday rituals. These things mean nothing if you're not obedient to me, and if you don't undo the violence in your society, the injustice that cries to heaven. The ashes on your forehead should make you work for justice for the poor and homeless, for peace in South Africa and Afghanistan, and against racism on your campus.

Ashes? Yes, but Seek New Life in Christ

Finally—ashes only because they will be applied in the form of a cross. Ashes of deadness only because the cross has given us new life. In celebrating the church year, always remember that even during Easter we still see the outline of the cross; and during Lent we already see the promise of the open tomb.

We leave the service quietly, meditatively, but also joyfully. We are sinners, but forgiven sinners. We lift high the cross. We go though Lent with renewed gratitude to Christ, with new discipline and dedication. You may keep the ashes on your forehead for the day (if you don't feel too self-conscious about it), but we know that Christ has already turned our ashes into the garland of victory.

Here we provide an Ash Wednesday service here that took place at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, as part of its chapel services for the season of Lent. We are grateful to Cindy de Jong, Coordinator of Worship, for her willingness to make this service available to others. You may find additional resources in the Ash Wednesday service provided for 2003 at

The Service of Worship

The worshipers arrive in silence.

            The Lord be with you.
            And also with you.

Scripture Sentences
            Our help is in the name of the Lord,
            the maker of heaven and earth. (from Psalm 121, 124)
            Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?
            Hope in God; for we shall praise him, our help and our God. (from Psalm 42)

            Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
            Before the mountains were brought forth,
            from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
            Teach us, Lord, to count our days
            that we may gain a wise heart.
            Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
            so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
            Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
(from Psalm 90)

Scripture Reading: 2 Peter 1:3-5, 23-25
            The Word of the Lord.
            Thanks be to God.

Reflection: "From Ashes to Easter"

Imposition of the Ashes

We begin our journey to Easter with the sign of ashes. This ancient sign speaks of the frailty and uncertainty of human life, and calls us to place our hope in God alone. I invite you, therefore, in the name of Christ, to observe a holy Lent by self-examination and penitence, by prayer and fasting, by works of love, and by reading and meditating on the Word of God.


Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth. May these ashes be for us a sign of our frailty and penitence, and a reminder that only by your gracious gift are we given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

You are welcome to come forward to receive the ashes on your bared forehead or the palm of your hand.


"Throughout These Lenten Days and Nights" SNC 129 (a Lenten hymn in which every stanza ends with singing about Easter!)
"O God, Our Help in Ages Past" PsH 170, TWC 78 (a testimony of faith for use especially in times of war and uncertainty)

            Gracious God, out of your love and mercy
            you breathed into dust the breath of life,
            creating us to serve you and our neighbors.
            In this season of repentance,
            restore to us the joy of our salvation;
            strengthen us to face our mortality,
            that we may reach with confidence for your mercy;
            in Jesus Christ our Lord,
            who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
            one God, now and forever. Amen.

The Blessing

Please depart in silence.

TOPICS: Evangelical Christian; Mainline Protestant; Theology; Worship
KEYWORDS: ashwednesday; calvinist; lent; reformed

1 posted on 02/22/2007 4:11:21 PM PST by Titanites
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: Titanites
Related threads: An Introduction to Lent and My First Ash Wednesday.
2 posted on 02/22/2007 4:50:56 PM PST by Titanites
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Titanites

Why not go to a the Latin Mass and see how it's really done. Know your roots!

3 posted on 02/22/2007 7:08:12 PM PST by WriteOn (Truth)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: WriteOn

This is written by a Calvinist who went.

4 posted on 02/22/2007 7:15:53 PM PST by Titanites
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: WriteOn
I garbled my previous reply to you while I was on my way out the door.

To clarify, this is a Calvinist ritual posted as a point of interest. Maybe the Latin Mass is next for them??

See the other related threads that are linked in post #2.

5 posted on 02/22/2007 10:14:05 PM PST by Titanites
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794 is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson