First Christian Church to Give Charcoal Crosses for Ash Wednesday

From ancient times, Christians have, on Ash Wednesday, searched their hearts and sought to be cleansed from sin. They have sought reconciliation with God and with one another.  They have received ashes marked on their foreheads as a sign of sin’s disfigurement and of their own mortality.  They have set aside the six weeks of Lent as a time to reckon with their own sinfulness and devote themselves to seek God with their whole hearts.

This packet contains a few items to help with Ash Wednesday and with Lent.  Here, you should find a small plastic zippered envelope with a charcoal cross inside, and the schedule of the Lenten Challenges by week.  In this letter, I’m laying out the liturgy for your Ash Wednesday prayers.   

This year, Ash Wednesday falls on February 17th.  Since we will not be meeting in person, we’re going to be applying the mark of the cross in ashes at home.  At some point in the day on Ash Wednesday, you are encouraged to take the cross out of the packet and apply it to your forehead (or the back of your hand, if you prefer—just press it in place and then remove the paper, leaving the charcoal residue on your skin in the shape of a cross).  The charcoal used is nontoxic and conforms to ASTM standards.  It will wash off easily at the end of the day with soap and water.  Next, spend some time with these prayers and questions . . .

1) Pray. Before applying the ash cross, please say a prayer asking for God to be present in this action and present in your life.  This prayer is an option:

Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth, may these ashes be to me (or us) a sign of how fragile I am ( or we are) and the need for me (us) to repent, so that I (we) may remember that only by your gracious gift are we given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior.  Amen. 

2) Apply the Ashes. If you haven’t already removed the cross from the plastic envelope, please do that next and get ready to apply it to your forehead by just pressing it to the skin and removing it.  Each cross is re-usable up to at least eight times, so multiple people can use just one of the crosses.      

Say this, as you apply it to yourself or to others in your family/home group, or have others say it to you:  “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

3) Confess and Turn to God. Confess your sins and tell God of your intentions to change.  Here is a prayer you can use or adapt for this purpose.  If there are multiple people in your household, everyone may respond at the appropriate times with “Hear our prayer, O God.”

We wear ashes on our heads as we pray for a new day.  The planet is dying in our hands; people turn to each other for food and strength only to be shoved away, a pandemic has reminded us how fragile we all are.  Each day we deal in death, yet pretend that we are good.  Let us take 40 days to look hard at our so-called goodness and see what it covers up.  Then we’ll take up the cross of living in the world as it is, for there is only one earth, and, as far as we know, only one human race. 

Let us pray:

That as disciples of Christ we might start using our hands, feet, money, time, and energy for the good of the poor, let us pray to the God of mercy . . . Hear our prayer, O God.

That citizens everywhere may realize that care for their neighbor consists of more than the mere giving of money, let us pray to the God of mercy . . . Hear our prayer, O God. 

For the needy, that they may not have to remain despondent and alone, let us pray to the God of mercy . . . Hear our prayer, O God. 

For all of us here that we may be honest enough to admit what we are selfish about, and what we can do to remedy our lack fo love, let us pray to the God of mercy . . . Hear our prayer, O God. 

For those who share Christ’s charity toward sinners, let us pray to the God of mercy . . . Hear our prayer, O God.

Merciful God, the ashes are our pledge to take up the cross of life.  We came from the earth and we will go back to it.  In the meantime, beginning these forty days, we will try to live here and make it a better home for everybody.  Through Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

4) Declare God’s Mercy. Read this aloud to yourself or to the people in your household after having completed the above steps:

Hear the good news of God’s reconciling love toward all, and believe: Through Christ God chose to reconcile the whole universe, making peace through the shedding of Christ’s blood upon the cross—to reconcile all things, whether on earth or in heaven, through Christ alone.  (Colossians 1:20, NEB, ALT.)