God has gifted the Church with an extremely potent liturgical act in the imposition of ashes, which calls to the forefront these important issues of life in a tactile way that is relatable and meaningful. Ash Wednesday is a great teaching occasion, and each year I am really surprised at the number of pastors and congregations who fail to take advantage of this kairos moment. I'm not sure why that is.
One of the aspects of Ash Wednesday which moves me so greatly is the hymnody associated with the day. There are so many wonderful hymns which effectively remind us of the wretched disease of sin that it can be difficult to order worship effectively.
Here are some of Charles Wesley's words which we sang last night...
"Depth of mercy! Can there be mercy still reserved for me?That hymn nearly brings me to tears each time I sing it.
Can my God his wrath forbear, me, the chief of sinners, spare?
"I have long withstood his grace, long provoked him to his face,
would not hearken to his calls, grieved him by a thousand falls.
"I my Master have denied, I afresh have crucified,
oft profaned his hallowed name, put him to an open shame.
"There for me the Savior stands, shows his wounds and spreads his hands.
God is love! I know, I feel; Jesus weeps and loves me still.
"Now incline me to repent, let me now my sins lament,
now my foul revolt deplore, weep, believe, and sin no more."
Here are some excerpts from another great one, by Adelaide Pollard...
"Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way!Finally, these wonderful words by Charlotte Elliott...
Search me and try me, Savior today!
Wash me just now, Lord, wash me just now,
as in thy presence humbly I bow...
"Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way!
Hold o'er my being absolute sway.
Fill with thy Spirit till all shall see
Christ only, always, living in me!"
"Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me,I thank God today for the rich hymnody of the Church, which can mightily express the emotional range of a great opportunity such as Ash Wednesday.
and that thou bidst me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come...
"Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
"Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind; sight, riches, healing of the mind,
yea, all I need in thee to find, O Lamb of God, I come, I come...
"Just as I am, thy love unknown hath broken every barrier down;
now, to be thine, yea thine alone, O Lamb of God, I come, I come."
I pray that I will use Lent faithfully, and that I will emerge on Easter recommitted and freshly inspired to continue the work to which the Spirit has called.