With an early Easter this year, Ash Wednesday fell on February 10th and I was able to attend both the lunchtime and evening services in our chapel. Although I had attended such services before and had a general sense of the focus of this day, the liturgy as set out in our Methodist Worship Book (from P.141) was in no sense familiar to me as we say these prayers and make these confessions on only one day in the year.
The morning was sunny and the chapel filled with light as our lunchtime congregation and others assembled to take part in the act of Penitence and Ashing ceremony followed by Holy Communion (the first in Lent). At 7 pm a larger congregation attended the chapel, the windows now dark, the day’s work over. A longer service allowed for 2 lessons, 4 hymns and a homily (so described by Revd Dr Martyn Atkins).
The reading from Isaiah 58, 1 to 12 explained what the Lord truly requires from our fasting. The readings from Matthew 6 encouraged “secret” giving, private prayer and fasting without public display. If in Lent we fast from the things of the world, we can truly feast on the things of God.
As the service progressed, a strong sense of the presence of the Spirit could be felt in the chapel, this essentially plain but holy space which I sometimes feel the Spirit especially favours. The words of the Act of Penitence (MWB P.145) are uncompromising and we can only answer “Christ have mercy” before coming forward to be marked on the forehead with an ash cross.
Our hymn book, Singing the Faith, does not have a section specifically for Ash Wednesday, but the hymn chosen to link the Ashing to the Lent Communion liturgy (which we joined mid-way at P.153) was new to me. Verse 4 struck me particularly ….
Of those around in whom I meet my Lord I ask their pardon and I grant them mine that every contradiction of Christ’s peace might be laid down.
(STF 575 John L. Bell Graham Maule)
48 of us then took communion in a sense of deep quiet and have found, talking since to various folk who were present, that we had been affected quite profoundly, reminded that we are created from the dust of the earth (the dust of the heavens?) Thanks be to God.