What Difference Does Lent Make?
Hymns of Gathering
“Come Away From rush and Hurry” CCS 83
"Teach Me, God, to Wonder" CCS 176
“As We Gather" CCS 73
Call to Worship: Psalm 118:1, 14, 19, 28, 29
*Hymn: "Called to Gather as God’s People” CCS 79
OR "Lord, You Have Brought Us” CCS 76
Reader 1: God, we confess our weakness, our brokenness, our separation from you and each other.
Reader 2: Empower us with your strength—the force of love.
Reader 1: We confess that we are often afraid and deny our worth and strength.
Reader 2: Forgive us when we fail to sense your love for us.
Reader 1: We confess that we are sometimes apathetic and turn from acts of justice.
Reader 2: Fill us with a sense of your call to be strong and courageous.
Reader 1: We confess and repent from our powerless stance.
Together: Forgive us, God, and renew us with your spirit, empowering us to be your people in this place and time.
—By Barbara Howard, Prayers and Readings for Worship, vol. 1,
Judy Judd, ed. (Herald House, 1987), 58.
Hymn: "Lay Your Hands" CCS 545 OR "O Christ, My Lord, Create in Me" CCS 507
This could be sung by the congregation or a quartet or small group.
Prayers of Repentance and Forgiveness
Incorporate the importance and significance of Ash Wednesday and Lent into the talk. See article "What Is Lent?" that follows this worship outline for additional material.
Hymn: "O Holy Dove of God Descending" CCS 44
OR "Holy Spirit, Come with Power” CCS 46
Period of Testimony
A time for the congregation to share how they plan to focus on the gift of Jesus Christ and remember the crucified and risen Lord. What difference does Lent make in our lives?
Hymn: "We Would See Jesus"
OR "The Path for Our Walking” CCS 177
*Closing Hymn: "Into My Heart” CCS 573
OR "Touch Me, Lord, with Thy Spirit Eternal" CCS 574
Reader 1: We are sent forth on our journey into this season of fasting, prayer, meditation, and service which we call Lent.
Reader 2: Let us be aware of Jesus the Christ on each step of our journey with him to the cross.
Reader 1: Let us sense anew the service to which we are called.
Reader 2: May God bless us all on our Lenten journey. Amen.
What Is Lent?
Lent is a time for personal and corporate spiritual renewal, a pilgrimage with Jesus. While the word "Lent" comes from the Anglo-Saxon lencten, which means "spring" (a time of the lengthening of days), on the Christian calendar it falls on the forty days (excluding Sundays) between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. This season grows out of the Jewish Passover celebration and the rites of initiation and passage from many cultures. The focus of Lent and Easter in the Gospels is caught up in a simple expression: "Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ comes again."
A good place to begin the Lenten pilgrimage is in careful study of the scriptural accounts of Jesus’ journey to the cross and resurrection (Year A—Matthew 26 through 28; Year B—Mark 14 through 16; Year C—Luke 22 through 24). If it is not possible to plan special services for all of the sacred moments of the season, time should be provided in Sunday worship services to include the reading of the scriptures that share the complete story of Christ’s passion, not just the joyful conclusion. Easter cannot be fully appreciated without a genuine sense of the loss and death that precede it.
The Lenten season begins with Ash Wednesday, an ancient holy day in the Christian calendar. In scripture, ashes paradoxically signify grief, sin, and human mortality while also symbolizing joy, forgiveness, and victory over death. In ancient France, those who were recognized in the community as sinners appeared in public wearing ashes. Soon it became the custom that every Christian wore the sign of the ashes on the first day of Lent to signify that each person was a sinner and needed to repent and be forgiven. In some congregations, the ashes are traditionally created by burning the palm branches that were used in Palm Sunday celebrations the previous year.
The Lenten season continues in reflection and self-examination. In essence we are called into the wilderness like Israel and Jesus before us to prepare for something new. In this wilderness we confront the most painful parts of ourselves, face our weaknesses, and search for our path to newness. The community gathers to study, share, and worship, providing support and structure for the journey. We travel together with Jesus toward Jerusalem.
Palm Sunday has traditionally been celebrative, focusing on the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. However, in recent years, especially if no other Holy Week services are held, the scope has enlarged to include a focus on the passion narrative and the name of the day is changed to "Passion Sunday." After the reading of the Passion, there is a somber and quiet reflection on the events of the days to follow in Jesus’ life.
Perhaps the least understood of the days in Holy Week is "maundy Thursday." While this is the night on which the Lord’s Supper was first celebrated, there is a deeper meaning. The actual Latin word from which "maundy" is derived means "command." The central theme of that first Lord’s Supper was one of humble service. Jesus washed the feet of the disciples and commanded that the disciples do the same for each other. Jesus taught that he came not to be served but to serve, to share the hospitality of God and the intimacy of breaking bread together.
On Good Friday we are in mourning and a somber tone is appropriate. In some Christian traditions, a meditation service is based on the "seven last words" of Jesus on the cross. Others commemorate the events of Good Friday with a traditional "tenebrae" service, progressively extinguishing candle flames until all worshipers are plunged symbolically into darkness. Perhaps the most important part of the Good Friday remembrance is its closure. Easter Sunday is coming but hasn’t arrived. Good Friday ends in silent mourning for the death of Jesus.
Some traditions observe Holy Saturday as a day of fasting, reflecting the quiet Jewish Sabbath and Christ’s rest in the tomb. The somewhat hopeless feelings of Good Friday and Holy Saturday remind us of the scriptural promise: "Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning" (Psalm 30:5 NRSV), Easter morning!
At the end of the Lenten pilgrimage, on Easter Sunday, services sometimes begin in a somber tone and progress through the remainder of the scriptural story, building toward a climax of great joy in the resurrection.
Prayer for the Journey
Ash Wednesday Prayer Service
Preparation of the Sanctuary for Lent
Prominently display a cross draped in purple. Netting works very well and is easy to use. Purple is chosen as the color of passion and Jesus’ lordship. The purple drape should be replaced on Good Friday with a black drape and for the Easter celebration with a white drape.
Ash Wednesday Worship Setting
Place several large hand- or wheel- thrown pots and bowls near the cross. Include a potter’s wheel, if available, or display a slab of terra-cotta or other clay and a partially hand-built pot. Clay is easily found at a craft store. Include a plate of ashes visible from the congregation. Because the service is held in the evening, using candles can be very effective and symbolize the fire that creates ashes as it refines our physical life to ashes.
Call to the Community
Use a flute, violin, clarinet, or oboe for soft meditation music.
Scripture Call: Psalm 51:1–3, 10–12
*Hymns of Preparation
"Lay Your Hands" CCS 545
"As the Deer" CCS 148
*Congregational Response: "Come, Holy Spirit, Come" CCS 154
We Are Dust; We Are Stardust
Theme Thoughts: Ash Wednesday and Lent.
We are dust because we are made of the basic elements of earth, and earth is made from the explosion of the first star at the beginning of time. God’s creation is both dust/physical and stardust/spiritual. We must understand that the physical life does not replace the spiritual life, but in fact is the vehicle for spirit and meaningless without that affirmation.
Scripture: Genesis 2:4–7
Hymn: "Breathe on Me, Breath of God" CCS 190 OR "Light Dawns on a Weary World” CCS 240
From the back or balcony, very gently strike a small gong or resonant bell before each pause.
From dust you were formed.
God fashioned you and breathed life into you.
God breathes life into you now.
Sense your breathing and the presence of God filling you.
Sense a deep longing to experience God’s presence.
Tonight we remember Jesus.
We have come willing to journey into the wilderness with Jesus,
seeking the truth about ourselves,
humbly preparing for renewal of our discipleship,
committing ourselves again as disciples of Jesus.
Examine your heart.
Examine your behavior.
Examine your commitment.
Are you willing to prepare your life for acceptable service?
As a person cleans house to prepare for an honored guest,
now create a clean heart and renew your spirit to welcome God’s presence.
Breathe in me, breath of God.
Breathe in me your new life.
Fashioning a New Vessel
Hymn "O Christ, My Lord, Create in Me” CCS 507 OR "Creator God, Creating Still" CCS 60
Scripture Reading: Jeremiah 18:1–6
We are the raw material, God’s dust, from which God may fashion a vessel worthy of the presence of the spirit. What are the materials of this life that God calls us to consecrate? We are called to give alms. What can we give?
Ministry of Music: "When We Are Living” CCS 242 by soloist OR Hymn: “A Mother Lined a Basket” CCS 239
Prayers for the Journey
Invite the congregation to offer prayers for the journey: in confession, expressing longing for God, for courage, and for discipleship. The prayers may be interspersed with congregational singing. Some suggestions include the following:
"Forgive Our Sins as We Forgive" CCS 215
"Humble Yourself" CCS 211
"Jesus, Jesus, Ever Near Us” CCS 254
Sent On Our Journey
Scripture Reading: I Thessalonians 5:16–23
*Hymn "Lord Jesus, of You I Will Sing" CCS 556 OR “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” CCS 554
*Prayer of Blessing
An Offering of Tears
Gather in Silence
Lighting of the Christ Candle
Hymn: "Kum ba yah, Seigneur” CCS 75 OR Come Holy Spirit” CCS 154
Call to Worship
Leader: Sound the trumpet in alarm! Let the people tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming.
People: We look toward a day of darkness and gloom, a day clouded with sorrow, sadness, and sacrifice.
Leader: God calls us through Jesus, "Return to me and repent with weeping and mourning."
People: Let us fast before God, in the hope of God’s steadfast love and salvation.
Leader: Blow the trumpet to call the people!
People: We gather before you, O God, in solemn assembly. We gather as people of every stripe and stature.
Leader : Let us pray together:
All: We gather, our eyes full of tears, asking for your presence. We gather looking for your response to our living. We gather in hope. Come, humble Jesus, come.
—based on Joel 2:1–2, 12–19
*Hymn: "O Young and Fearless Prophet” CCS 36 OR “Who Is This Jesus” CCS 38
Invitation to Lenten Discipline
For years Christians have pondered the coming of Jesus’ passion and resurrection. The forty days of Lent have served as reminders of Noah’s forty days on the water, of the Israelites’ forty years of wandering in the wilderness, and of Jesus’ forty days of fasting and temptation in the wilderness. Lent has been a time to consider the ways in which we separate ourselves from God and from one another. You are invited, in the name of Christ, to observe a holy Lent by self-examination, by prayer, by study, and by meditating on God’s word.
Scripture: Psalm 51:1–2, 10–12
Prayer of Confession
Hymn: "God, Who Touches Earth with Beauty" CCS 568 OR “God Whose Grace Redeems Our Story” CCS 570
An Offering of Tears
Give each person a tear-shaped piece of paper and a pencil or pen. Invite them to write something on the tear that represents one way in which they separate themselves from God. After everyone is finished, the tears are collected in a fire-proof container. Then the following words are spoken as the tears are lit with the flame from the Christ candle. (Be sure to use care with the fire and always have a fire extinguisher handy.)
Accept our sorrow and our repentance, O God, as we offer these tears to you.
Watch in silence as the tears burn. Once they are burned, continue with the Prayer of Tears.
Prayer of Tears
Leader: Cry aloud to the Lord! Let tears stream down like a torrent.
People: We yearn to do away with our burdens of sin, our tears of injustice and oppression.
Leader : Arise and cry out in the night! Pour out your heart like water in God’s presence.
All: We listen for God’s grace-filled answer, praying for relief from our inner wilderness.
—based on Lamentations 2:18–19
Hymn: “ O God We Call” CCS 195
Scripture: Hebrews 12:1–2
Assurance of Pardon
Leader: In Christ, God declares a home among all people.
People: We are God’s people, and Jesus dwells in us.
Leader: In Christ, God wipes away every tear from our eyes, healing us by the resurrection.
People: In Christ, God is calling us to be made new, offering us divine assurance in grace and forgiveness.
Leader: "I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end," declares God,
All: And we are your people who once were thirsty, but now drink deeply of the water of life.
—based on Revelation 21:3b–7
Ministry of Music: "Look at This Man, Born of God" CCS 26 OR Hymn: "What Wondrous Love Is This” CCS 454
Lead Prayer of Dedication
Prayers of the People
*Hymn: "Beneath the Cross of Jesus” CCS 206
*A Lenten Prayer (with drum)
Four drumbeatsGod of love,
As in Jesus Christ you gave yourself to us,
so may we give ourselves to you,
living according to your holy will.
Two drumbeats, pause (one, two)
Keep our feet firmly in the way where Christ leads us;
Two drumbeats, pause (one, two)
help our lips speak the truth that Christ teaches us;
Two drumbeats, pause (one, two)
fill our bodies with the life that is Christ within us.
Two drumbeats, pause (one, two)
In his holy name we pray. Amen.
One loud drumbeat to punctuate!
*Response: "When We Are Tested” CCS 453