Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) blogs


Subscribe to this blog feed icon

About this blog

Thinking the Faith, Praying the Faith, Living the Faith is written by the PC(USA) Office of Theology and Worship.

Thinking, praying, and living the faith is at the core of ministry in the Office of Theology and Worship. In the following videos, learn more about what thinking, praying, and living the faith means to the leadership of the Office of Theology and Worship. Discover why it matters and what difference it makes in our lives, work, and worship.  

Charles Wiley  
Barry Ensign-George
David Gambrell
Christine Hong 
Karen Russell

Recent posts



See all PC(USA) Blogs

PC(USA) Home

March 7, 2011

Ash Wednesday

Many Presbyterian congregations will observe Ash Wednesday this week. My friend Sheldon Sorge – an alumnus of the Office of Theology and Worship, now serving as Pastor to Pittsburgh Presbytery – once pointed out this liturgical oddity: that the Ash Wednesday service in the Book of Common Worship includes a confession of sin without a corresponding declaration of forgiveness.

At first we wondered if this might be a misprint. I checked the service books of several other denominations, however, and found sufficient parallels to suggest that this was no accident. After confessing our sin with Psalm 51 and the Litany of Penitence [and then the Imposition of Ashes, in brackets], in the place where one might expect to find an assurance of pardon, there is only this petition:

Accomplish in us, O God, the work of your salvation,
that we may show forth your glory
in the world.

By the cross and passion of our Savior,
bring us with all your saints
to the joy of Christ's resurrection. (BCW, 227)

The prayer points toward Holy Week, to the “cross and passion of our Savior,” and ultimately to the Easter “joy of Christ’s resurrection.” But it only points the way. We walk out of the service still wearing the smudge of sin and death. Still, here is our hope, our joy, our glory: the smudge is in the shape of a cross, the cross of Christ, whose grace redeems us from sin, whose love is stronger than death. Thanks be to God.

Here’s a hymn for Ash Wednesday based on the epistle lesson for the day, 2 Corinthians 5:20b—6:10. The tune is Llangloffan (#291 in the Presbyterian Hymnal). (A note about “long days” in the second stanza: the word “Lent” is derived from an Old English word for spring, which in turn comes from a Germanic root: “to lengthen,” since spring is the time of the year when the days begin to grow longer.)

(1) Seek peace with God our Savior,
through Jesus Christ we pray;
for Christ has won us favor;
our sin is washed away.
We waited for salvation,
and now the time is here.
Make way: the new creation
at last is drawing near.

(2) Through struggle and affliction,
long days and sleepless nights,
hold fast to this conviction:
that God will make things right.
Let wisdom, patience, kindness,
and holiness increase.
The strength of God will save us;
Christ’s presence is our peace.

(3) They say that we are lying,
and yet our hearts are true.
They think that we are dying,
but see — life springs anew!
Our sorrow turns to pleasure,
our poverty is gain.
This thing alone we treasure:
to share God’s holy reign.

© 2009 David Gambrell.

Categories: Music, Worship