A simple Ash service

Set-up: Bowl of Ash. The ‘wisdom of ash’ poem printed on the wall. (below) Native white flowers in basket. Communion. Psalm pages for each person.
Optional Kids package – pretzels – remind us of praying arms and some plasticine to make something out of. 
Introduction – with picture of Spring.
Lent has a long history. It began in the early church as a time for those who were going to be baptized to prepare themselves for baptism and full acceptance into the church. It was a time for fasting and prayer as well as a time for them to study and learn about Jesus and what it means to be a part of the church. (Baptism happened only once a year on the day before Easter)  Eventually everyone in the church joined in this practice as a way of showing fellowship and support for the new believers. It became an official season of the church calendar and was established as a 40 days of preparation to celebrate Easter. The forty days are representative of the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness preparing for his ministry.
It is a time to reflect on Christ’s life and example, to turn from sin, to renew our commitments and our faith, to celebrate God’s redemptive and life-giving presence with us. The church has traditionally made this journey through a focus on prayer, (justice towards God) fasting (Justice towards ourselves) and giving (Justice towards others).
So the time of Lent is really about growth. The word Lent means “Spring” or “springtime”. Just as spring is a time when we plant seeds and bury them in darkness it is a time when we plant ourselves in God and focus on and repent of the darkness in ourselves and in our world. It is a time when we can grow and become a thing of beauty and restoration to the world around us.
The Lord’s Prayer  
Eternal Spirit,
Earth-maker, Pain bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:
The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom
sustain our hope and come on earth!
With the bread we need for today,
feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another,
forgive us.
In times of temptation and test,
strengthen us.
From trial too great to endure,
spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil,
free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love,
now and forever. Amen.
Source: A New Zealand Prayer Book (Harper Collins, 1997), 181.
This last Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, which marks the first day of the Season of Lent. Its name comes from the ancient practice of placing ashes on worshippers’ heads or foreheads as a sign of humility before God.
On this day we wear ashes to remind us that our world is in a real mess.  Sin leaves its mark on each and every one of us –  but that is not what defines us, that is not the end of the story. We make those ashes into the shape of a cross to remind ourselves that God loves us with grace and forgiveness, that we are people of Love. God transforms our mess so that we can live the life of love there is for us. Love is what defines us.
I invite you to come forward and receive the mark of the cross on your hand or forehead and pass it on to the person behind you saying: ‘From ashes to life.’
Play clipMention of your name’ Bethel.
Jesus asked us to remember him simply by eating together! So let us remember Jesus now.
Pass around bread
This bread reminds us of your wonderful life Jesus and your death. Thankyou Jesus for your body. Thankyou for showing us how to live. We eat and remember. We take your life into us, take us into your life. Let us eat.
Pass around wine
This drink reminds us of your blood. We remember that our sins are washed by you. We drink and we remember. Through your death our death was taken. Let us drink.
Psalm – Group Reading
We are now going to read a sorry song together, a song written by David when the prophet Nathan came to him after David had stolen Bathsheba, got her pregnant and murdered her husband.  The hyssop plant referred to in the song is a small bush with bunches of small, white flowers. It was sometimes used in ceremony as a symbol for making a person clean from sin.
I invite people to pick up the reading and come and read a paragraph each as you feel led.
Play song ‘Your Love Remains’ The Brilliance quietly throughout reading.
Instruction Sheet – Psalm 51:1-17 (VOICE)
Look on me with a heart of mercy, O God,
according to Your generous love.
According to Your great compassion,
wipe out every consequence of my shameful crimes.
Thoroughly wash me, inside and out, of all my crooked deeds.
Cleanse me from my sins.
For I am fully aware of all I have done wrong,
and my guilt is there, staring me in the face.
It was against You, only You, that I sinned,
for I have done what You say is wrong, right before Your eyes.
So when You speak, You are in the right.
When You judge, Your judgments are pure and true.
For I was guilty from the day I was born,
a sinner from the time my mother became pregnant with me.
But still, You long to enthrone truth throughout my being;
in unseen places deep within me, You show me wisdom.
Cleanse me of my wickedness with hyssop, and I will be clean.
If You wash me, I will be whiter than snow.
Help me hear joy and happiness as my accompaniment,
so my bones, which You have broken, will dance in delight instead.
Cover Your face so You will not see my sins,
and erase my guilt from the record.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God;
restore within me a sense of being brand new.
11 Do not throw me far away from Your presence,
and do not remove Your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Give back to me the deep delight of being saved by You;
let Your willing Spirit sustain me.
13 If You do, I promise to teach rebels Your ways
and help sinners find their way back to You.
14 Free me from the guilt of murder, of shedding a man’s blood,
O God who saves me.
Now my tongue, which was used to destroy, will be used to sing with deep delight of how right and just You are.
15 O Lord, pry open my lips that this mouth will sing joyfully of Your greatness.
16 I would surrender my dearest possessions or destroy all that I prize to prove my regret,
but You don’t take pleasure in sacrifices or burnt offerings.
17 What sacrifice I can offer You is my broken spirit
because a broken spirit, O God,
a heart that honestly regrets the past,
You won’t detest.
Spend a moment in quiet now and let that sorry song sit with you. Allow God to bring to mind anything you may need to turn away from in your life at this time. Anything you may need God’s rescue from.
 Plays song ’Lay it All Down’ Will Reagan.
When you feel ready to bring this to Jesus come to the front and take a white flower from the ash, a symbol of forgiveness and transformation.
As you turn around and walk back to your seat, remember you are turning away from your sin in the real strength of God. Leave the dust behind you and walk towards the peace of God.
Closing Blessing
Sisters and Brothers,
your sins are forgiven;
be at peace.
Do right and light shall begin to dawn,
and very quickly healing shall be yours,
my righteousness shall go ahead of you,
and my glory shall follow your every step.
Then you will call out for help, and I will answer,
I will say to you, “Here I am, my child.”
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,
and the blessing of the bountiful God,
the blessing of a liberating Son,
and the blessing of a nurturing Spirit,
will be your strength and your joy.
On wall:
The Wisdom Of Ash
There is a wisdom in ash,
that we need so much,
but seldom hear.
It’s the wisdom of grief,
that reminds us of our mortality,
and that Life is more than this dust can contain.
It’s the wisdom of confession,
that brings our darkness out of hiding,
and opens the windows to Light.
It’s the wisdom of repentance,
that stops us in our tracks,
and charts the way to Love.
There’s a wisdom in ash,
and we welcome it, Jesus,
thankful for the renewing gifts it brings.
John van de Laar