Ash Wednesday: Litany of Penitence

Below is the liturgy from Knox's Ash Wednesday Service.

Knox Presbyterian Church

Ash Wednesday Service

March 1, 2017

Call to Worship

One: Let us Worship God.

God sent Christ into the world

Not to condemn the world,

But that the world might be saved through him.

All: God’s love endures forever.

One: God is our refuge and our strength,

A present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear

Though the earth should change,

Though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;

Though the waters roar and foam,

Though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

All: God’s love endures forever.

One: Let us pray.

All: Gracious God,

Out of your love and mercy

You breathed into dust the breath of life,

Creating us to serve you and neighbors.

Call forth our prayers and acts of tenderness,

And 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.

HYMN “Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling” #418

The Word


God our helper,

By your Holy Spirit open our minds,

That as the scriptures are read and your Word is proclaimed,

We may be led into your truth,

And be taught your will,

For the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

FIRST READING Joel 2:1-2; 12-17

1-3 Blow the ram’s horn trumpet in Zion! Trumpet the alarm on my holy mountain! Shake the country up! God’s Judgment’s on its way—the Day’s almost here! A black day! A Doomsday! Clouds with no silver lining! Like dawn light moving over the mountains, a huge army is coming. There’s never been anything like it and never will be again. Wildfire burns everything before this army and fire licks up everything in its wake. Before it arrives, the country is like the Garden of Eden. When it leaves, it is Death Valley. Nothing escapes unscathed.

But there’s also this, it’s not too late— God’s personal Message!— “Come back to me and really mean it! Come fasting and weeping, sorry for your sins!” 13-14 Change your life, not just your clothes. Come back to God, your God. And here’s why: God is kind and merciful. He takes a deep breath, puts up with a lot, This most patient God, extravagant in love, always ready to cancel catastrophe. Who knows? Maybe he’ll do it now, maybe he’ll turn around and show pity. Maybe, when all’s said and done, there’ll be blessings full and robust for your God! 15-17 Blow the ram’s horn trumpet in Zion! Declare a day of repentance, a holy fast day. Call a public meeting. Get everyone there. Consecrate the congregation. Make sure the elders come, but bring in the children, too, even the nursing babies, Even men and women on their honeymoon— interrupt them and get them there. Between Sanctuary entrance and altar, let the priests, God’s servants, weep tears of repentance. Let them intercede: “Have mercy, God, on your people! Don’t abandon your heritage to contempt. Don’t let the pagans take over and rule them and sneer, ‘And so where is this God of theirs?’”

GOSPEL READING Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding. 2-4 “When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure—‘playactors’ I call them—treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.

“And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat? 6 “Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.

When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God, don’t make a production out of it. It might turn you into a small-time celebrity but it won’t make you a saint. If you ‘go into training’ inwardly, act normal outwardly. Shampoo and comb your hair, brush your teeth, wash your face. God doesn’t require attention-getting devices. He won’t overlook what you are doing; he’ll reward you well.

Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.


Beloved People of God,

From the early days of our faith,

Christians have observed the remembrance of Christ’s passion and resurrection with great reverence.

It became the custom to prepare for that observance by a season of prayer and fasting, and the reconciliation of those who had been separated from the community of faith.

By keeping the season of Lent, we take to heart God’s call to repentance,

And the assurance of forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel

And practice in our daily lives the work of reconciliation.

I invite you to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy word.

Let us begin this season by receiving the reminder of our mortal nature with prayer and gratitude for God’s redeeming work.


from the Book of Common Worship

Let us pray

Holy and merciful God,

We confess to you and to one another,

And to the whole communion of saints in heaven and on earth,

That we have sinned by our own fault

In thought word and deed,

By what we have done,

And by what we have left undone.

We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength.

We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.

We have not forgiven others as we have been forgiven.

Have mercy on us, O God.

We have not listened to your calling to serve as Christ served us.

We have not been true to the mind of Christ.

We have grieved your Holy Spirit.

Have mercy on us, O God.

We confess to you, O God, all our past unfaithfulness:

the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience in our lives,

we confess to you, O God.

Our self-indulgent appetites and ways

And our exploitation of other people,

we confess to you, O God.

Our anger at our own frustration

And our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves,

we confess to you, O God.

Our love of worldly goods and comforts,

And our dishonesty in daily life and work,

we confess to you, O God.

Our negligence in prayer and worship,

And our failure to commend the faith that is in us,

we confess to you, O God.

Accept our repentance, O God,

For the wrongs we have done.

For our neglect of human need and suffering

And our indifference to injustice and cruelty,

Accept our repentance, O God.

For all false judgements,

For uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors,

And for our prejudice and contempt

Toward those who differ from us.

Accept our repentance, O God.

For our waste and pollution of your creation

And our lack of concern for those who come after us,

Accept our repentance, O God.

Restore us, O God,

And let your anger depart from us.

Favorably hear us, O God,

For your mercy is great.


The people will be invited forward for the imposition of ashes.

Almighty God,

You have created us out of the dust of the earth.

May these ashes be for us

A sign of our mortality and penitence,

And a reminder that only by your gracious gift

Are we given everlasting life;

Through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

(Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return)

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.

HYMN “Amazing Grace” #649



God of compassion,

Through your Son Jesus Christ

You reconciled your people to yourself.

Following his example of prayer and fasting,

May we obey you with willing hearts

And serve one another in holy love;

Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

HYMN “There is a Balm in Gilead” #792


May the God of peace 1 Thess. 5:23

Make you holy in every way

And keep your whole being -

Spirit, soul, body -

Free from every fault

At the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.


Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

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