A Service of Commination 2021 – Cokesbury UMC
The imposition of ashes, though traditional in the Roman Catholic Church and not without scriptural merit, was not practiced in the UMC until the 1980’s and was not officially endorsed until 1992. Similarly, it wasn’t common in the Episcopal Church until the late 20th century. Personally, the first time I ever attended at Ash Wednesday service wasn’t until I was in seminary learning how to do all of this.
During the time of John Wesley, instead of starting Lent with Ash Wednesday, the church would use a service from the Book of Common Prayer entitled a “Service of Commination”.
It’s a service focused on “God’s anger and judgments against sinners.”
In other words, the Church during the time of Wesley initiated the Lenten journey to the cross by recalling the reason for the cross. In this way the Church heeded what the Apostle Peter says in his epistle, “For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God.” In this time of pandemic when we cannot safely impose ashes, we have the opportunity to rediscover a part of our historic worship and remember that our hope lies not in public displays of pietism, but in the living Word of God, which testifies to us that, “Jesus Christ has taken from us the curse of the law.”
So tonight, I haven taken the liturgy from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and I’ve adapted the language to fit 2021:
Friends, in the early church, there was a discipline, that, at the beginning of Lent, those who stood convicted of notorious sins were called to repentance that they might be saved in the day of the Lord; and that others, moved by their example, might be more afraid to sin.
It is good for us at this time to hear God’s anger against sinners and for us to respond to such pronouncements with “Amen.” The hope is that, as we hear God’s great indignation against sinners, we may be moved toward repentance.
Woe to the those who worships idols. Amen.
Woe to the those who curse mother or father. Amen.
Woe to the those who abuse the stranger, the orphaned, and the widowed. Amen.
Woe to the those who speak ill of neighbor. Amen.
Woe to the those who puts trust in themselves rather than the Lord. Amen.
Woe to those who withhold the truth and those who wantonly lie. Amen.
Woe to the unmerciful, the covetous, the slanderers, and extortioners. Amen.
Now, seeing that we are all sinners surely in need of grace, that we all go astray from the commandments of God, let us return to the Lord our God with contrition and meekness of heart, lamenting of our sins, acknowledging and confessing our offenses, and seeking to bring true repentance. For now the axe is put to the root of the tree, so that every tree that does not bear fruit may be cast into the fire. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God who makes the rain to fall on the good and the wicked. Who will be able to stand on the day of the Lord? Remember, the Lord will come like a thief in the night. Let us not, then, abuse the goodness of God who calls us mercifully to transformation and promises to forgive us. Even though are sins are red as scarlet, God will wash them all away. Although we have sinned, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he comes to take away the power of sin and death. For, he was wounded for our offenses, and killed for our wickedness. Let us then return to him, the merciful receiver of all sinners, knowing that he is ready to receive, pardon, and redeem us. We do this knowing that Christ has and will deliver us from the curse of the law, and will command us to take possession of his glorious kingdom for no reason other than his infinite mercy.
And now, while in a posture of penitence, let us hear the words of Psalm 51.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment. Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me. You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, then you will delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.
Hymn 301 – Jesus Keep Me Near The Cross:
V1. Jesus, keep me near the cross; there a precious fountain, Free to all, a healing stream, flows
from Calvary’s mountain.
In the cross, in the cross, be my glory ever,
Till my raptured soul shall find rest beyond the river.
V2. Near the cross, a trembling soul, love and mercy found me; There the bright and morning
star sheds it beams around me.
V3. Near the cross! O Lamb of God, bring its scenes before me; Help me walk from day to day
with its shadow o’er me.
V4. Near the cross I’ll watch and wait, hoping, trusting, ever, Till I reach the golden strand just
beyond the river.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.
Lord, have mercy upon us as we pray the words you taught us: 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 trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord, hear our prayer, cleanse us of our sins, yet again. Mercifully forgive us of our trespasses; receive and comfort us, who are grieved under the burden of what we have done and what we have left undone. You are the One of mercy Lord, so spare us, spare your people whom you have redeemed. Turn your anger from us as we confess the condition of our condition, and help us so to love you and our neighbors with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Amen.
May the Lord bless us, and keep us; the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon us, and give us peace, now and for evermore. Amen.