Called to Humility and Repentance: An Ash Wednesday service

The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, March 8 in 2000. This service combines features from several services. Ronald Kok, evangelist of Living Hope Community Church, Randolph, Wisconsin, submitted plans from a community-wide service. Similar plans from Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan, were developed from a service by John D. Witvliet included in The Services of the Christian Year, Volume V of the Complete Library of Christian Worship, edited by Robert Webber (available from Hendrickson Publishing, 978-532-6546).



[Perhaps the prelude could be omitted, and the people simply enter in silence. In fact, moments of silence could well be interspersed at appropriate places throughout the service. The visual setting should be solemn. Consider using this occasion to introduce the colors and symbols that will be used throughout Lent.]


The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
And also with you.
Bless the Lord who forgives all our sins.
God’s mercy endures forever.

Opening Prayer

Almighty and everlasting God, you breathed into dust the breath of life, creating us for fellowship with you. You brought about our redemption through Jesus Christ to restore us to fellowship with you. Today we acknowledge you as our Creator and Redeemer. We acknowledge the frailty of our lives, the pain of our sinfulness, and even the weakness of our faith. Work in us, we pray, a spirit of true humility and fervor, as we join now to offer our prayers to you. Amen.

Hymn: “Just As I Am, Without One Plea” PsH 263, PH 370, RL 467, TH 501, TWC 445



Old Testament Lesson: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17a

Gospel Lesson: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

New Testament Lesson: 1 Peter 1:13-16


The Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God.



People of God, each year we remember and celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which he overcame death and provided for us redemption from sin. Lent is a season of preparation for this celebration, a time for personal and communal renewal and penitence. I invite you, then, to self-examination, prayer, meditation upon God’s Word, giving of alms, and fasting during this season of Lent. May God bless us as we strive to walk in the way of our Lord.

Imposition of Ashes

We begin our Lenten observance by using the centuries-old symbol of ashes. By this we are reminded of our own frailty and mortality and are called to humility and penitence.

Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth. May these ashes be to us a sign of our mortality, that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life. Amen.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

[After the printed prayer, worshipers should be invited to the front of the worship space, where the officiating clergy and other assistants will place the ashes on the forehead of each worshiper. They may be imposed in the shape of a cross. The ashes are traditionally created by the burning of the palm branches that were used by the local parish during the previous year on Psalm Sunday.]

Prayer of Confession

[Leader and people read Psalm 51 responsively. The psalm may be broken into several sections, each of which could be followed by a refrain or antiphon sung by a solo voice or choir. An appropriate refrain text would be, “Create in me a clean heart, O God,” SFL 41.]


Almighty and everlasting God,

we enter this season of Lent in penitence and humility, aware of our own mortality and sinfulness. Encourage us with your presence, we pray, that we may empty ourselves of whatever separates us from you and one another. Teach us to rely on no strength but yours, as we journey with your Son toward your kingdom through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Prayer of Dedication: Psalm 116

[The psalm may be read by a single voice from the back of the worship space. It should be read slowly and reflectively.]


Lord, our God,

make of us pilgrims throughout these forty days. We pledge to walk in the light of your Word and by the power of your Spirit. Strengthen us in our commitment, we pray, that we may serve you and each other in the love of Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Parting Hymn: “May the Mind of Christ, My Savior” PsH 291, TH 644, TWC 560

For the Ash Wednesday service at Living Hope Community Church, I designed a simple bulletin cover by taking some of the ashes I was going to use in the service and smearing them into the shape of a cross on a blank piece of paper. I copied the bulletins directly off that original on a simple, frameless white background. The image helped the congregation focus on the starkness, simplicity, and immediacy of Ash Wednesday.

—Ronald Kok



Ash Wednesday is an ancient holy day in the Christian church calendar. It marks the beginning of the season of Lent—a time of penitence, discipline, and renewal. In the Ash Wednesday service we are reminded of our mortality, we confess our sins, and we experience forgiveness through Christ’s death and resurrection. The “imposition of ashes” is a central part of the service. During this time, you are invited to come forward to receive the ashes on your forehead.

In Scripture, ashes serve both as a symbol of mortality and as a sign of mourning and repentance. But neither sin nor death are the final word. We leave the service in confidence and gratitude: Christ has conquered death, and nothing can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

—Harry Boonstra
(Reprinted from RW 30)

Reformed Worship 54 © December 1999, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.