Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Liturgy: Ash Wednesday, Matthew 1-4 (Lessons and Carols, February 22, 2023)

*You are welcome to use or adapt any of my resources for free, but I ask that you provide proper citation AND comment on this post to let me know.*

As we did last year, Boone Memorial Presbyterian Church in Caldwell, ID, will spend this Lent reading straight through a gospel from beginning to end: this year, Matthew. We will NOT have sermons during Lent, instead structuring worship around a "lessons and carols" model. All hymns are from the PC(USA)'s "Glory to God" hymnal.

The theme that will accompany this project is "Unlocking Salvation". As we work our way through Matthew's gospel, we will make note of the things standing between God and humanity (and specifically each of us) and how Jesus "unlocks" the doors that separate us. 

I will post the liturgies for ensuing weeks as I write them. I'm happy for anyone to use any part(s) of this series in their own worship contexts with proper attribution, but I would request that you let me know in the comments that you're doing so.


Ash Wednesday Worship Service (Liturgy by Rev. Katey Schwind Williams)
(Bold words are to be read aloud in unison)

Opening Words

[Read Matthew 1:1-17]

Leader: Matthew opens his gospel with a genealogy because he wants us to know exactly who Jesus is. Jesus is a son of Abraham, the father of nations, and David, the greatest King of Israel, but he is also a son of Ruth, the Moabite foreigner, and Manasseh, the idolatrous tyrant. Jesus connects the past and the future, the Jewish and the Gentiles, the human and the divine, and he unlocks everything that stands between them. Jesus is the key.

Blessings to you this Lent, and welcome to Ash Wednesday worship. Tonight, we’re beginning our journey through Matthew’s gospel, as we allow Scripture to speak for itself over the next six weeks and we discover what God’s Word can unlock for us. Listen to hear prophecies fulfilled. Listen to hear wisdom revealed. Listen to hear Jesus speaking to you. Let us call ourselves to worship using the words printed in your bulletin.

Call to Worship

Leader: We gather in this holy place to mark ourselves with ashes.
People: Ashes that remind us where we come from, and where we shall return.
Leader: We gather to confront our mortality, our sin, and all that stands between us and the divine.
People: Unlock all doors, O Lord; receive us into your presence.

First Scripture Reading

The Birth of Jesus: Matthew 1:18-2:12

Hymn #88 “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” (vv. 1, 4, & 5)

O come, O come, Emmanuel, and random captive Israel
That mourns in lowly exile here until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O Come, thou Root of Jesse, free thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell thy people save and give them vict’ry o’er the grave. 
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, thou Key of David, come, and open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high and close the path to misery. 
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Second Scripture Reading

The Murder of the Innocents: Matthew 2:13-2:23

Litany of Penitence

Leader: Let us respond to God’s Word through confession. When you hear “Together, we pray,” please respond by saying, “Have mercy on us, O God”: Holy and merciful God, in our hubris, we presume to know your mind and heart. We arrogantly believe that no knowledge is beyond our understanding, and yet we close our ears to the teachings that you offer us in compassion and love. Together, we pray: Have mercy on us, O God.

Like our spiritual forebears, we have failed you. We have disobeyed your commands, resisted your call, rejected your beloved children, denied our responsibilities, and let your kindom recede ever-further into the distance. Together, we pray: Have mercy on us, O God.

Like Joseph, we have entertained thoughts of self-preservation in the face of your call on our lives. We have trusted our assumptions instead of holy discernment, and we’ve required messengers from heaven to open our eyes to your will. Together, we pray: Have mercy on us, O God.

Like Herod, we’ve taken out our rage and our fear on those less powerful than ourselves. We’ve used manipulation to get what we want, and violence when that proves ineffective. We’ve followed our own desires with no regard for how they impact others. Together, we pray: Have mercy on us, O God.

We know that we do not deserve mercy, Lord, but we trust in your promise. We believe that the doors of sin that we lock behind us can be opened again by your power alone. Forgive us our wrongdoing, and place in our hands the wonderful key that will reunite us with you in your heavenly kindom. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.

Third Scripture Reading

The Baptism of Jesus: Matthew 3

Imposition of Ashes

Leader: John baptizes with water, Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire, but on this day, we baptize ourselves with ashes. We cannot hope to unlock the doors standing between ourselves and God unless we first recognize that they exist. We are mortal, we are sinful, and we will return to dust – but we are also claimed by a God who refuses to give up on us. I invite you to come forward to receive ashes either on your forehead or your hand as a reminder of your mortality and sin. Then, select a key* to remind you of God’s promise to destroy the things that stand between us. Finally, you may dip the (long) end of the key into glue and then into ashes as a reminder of the work that still needs to be done. Afterwards, you may return to your seat with your key. For those of you who are worshiping from home, keys and ashes will be available throughout Lent.
[Ashes are imposed]

Fourth Scripture Reading

Temptation of The Lord: Matthew 4:1-17 (CEB)

Meditation & Hymn

Leader: Jesus Christ, born without sin, fully divine and fully human, had nothing standing between him and God. There was no boundary, no wall, no door standing between the Father and the Son. The temptations that Jesus faced were designed specifically to create division where there was none. But Jesus refused to allow that to happen.

We, of course, already have much standing between us and God. We don’t need to wait in the desert for forty days to see if they exist. What we DO need is forty days to acknowledge them, to examine them, and to decide whether or not they belong in our lives. Let us reflect on these things and set our intention for Lent.

As we sing, a basket with blank keychains** and pens will be passed. (If you’re at home, you can use a scrap piece of paper for now.) Please take one of each, and as you reflect, write down the most significant thing (or things) that are currently standing between you and God. As you attach it to your key, pray for the strength to face that particular door standing between you and God and for help unlocking it. Carry your key and keychain with you throughout Lent as a constant reminder both of the doors between us and God, and of the promise of their unlocking. 

At the end of the singing, we’ll observe a moment of silent reflection before concluding with the Lord’s prayer.

(Hymn #437 “You Are the Lord, Giver of Mercy!”)
You are the Lord, giver of mercy!
You are the Christ, giver of mercy!
You are the Lord, giver of mercy!

[A moment of silent reflection is observed]

Leader: Together, let us pray the words that Jesus himself taught us, saying…

All: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

Blessing and Charge

[Read Matthew 4:18-25]

Leader: The gospel could end here, but we all know it doesn’t. There is much more still standing between us and God, much more that we don’t understand, much more for Jesus to unlock for us. For now, we have been called to follow Jesus and to share the Good News of help and healing, of love and learning, of broken barriers and opened doors as we go.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return…but not yet. This is only the beginning. Let us see what doors Jesus will open for us in the days to come.

This is the Word of the Lord!
People: Thanks be to God!
Leader: Go in peace. Amen.

(All depart quietly)


*We have a large number of old keys at the church that no longer go to anything, so we will be using these. You could alternatively use blank keys, toy keys, or cardboard cutouts.

**I purchased key labels in bulk. I chose the kind that used paper inserts, so that we could physically write the thing standing between us and God in the middle, and also for added privacy (I will be asking people to return their keys later in Lent).

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