Our Father: we enter tonight into a season of deliberate repentance. We know that repentance is not a seasonal thing; we ought to always be repenting of our sins. And yet we confess that in the press and the push of life, our repentance can become routine and shallow. Our awareness of our sin is not as acute as it should be. And so we pray as a church… Lord, have mercy.
We ask you, Lord, to make us mindful of our sins. Heighten our moral sensitivity. Strengthen our consciences. Deepen our self-awareness. Let your hand be heavy upon us – not to push us down into despair, but to bring us low, into rightful humility before you. Humility is not natural for us. And so we pray as a church… Lord, have mercy.
Our Lord and God, we ask you also to make us more aware of our mortality. We are but a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Yet how prideful we are! Rather than pondering the brevity of life, we live as though tomorrow is guaranteed. We avoid talk of death and dying, and we fail to grieve with those who suffer. Awaken us to our mortality. Help us see the shortness of life on earth. Let the ashes we receive tonight remind us that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. And so we pray as a church… Lord, have mercy.
Father, we acknowledge our pursuit of comfort. Most of us don’t know what it means to go without. Give us grace in this season to willfully deny ourselves – to forego the comforts we take for granted for the greater comfort of knowing you more deeply. We’ll need your help in this, Lord – we are not disciplined in the art of fasting and prayer. And so we pray as a church… Lord, have mercy.
God of all Comfort, we remember before you this night our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. Many of them suffer. Some are persecuted by oppressive governments. Others are harmed by unjust social structures. Still others lack the freedom to worship you openly. For all your people who suffer tonight, we pray as a church… Lord, have mercy.
And finally, our Father, we ask for the merciful gift of your Holy Spirit. We enter this Lenten season in dependent faith. There is nothing magical about Lent. In fact, if we merely “observe days and months and seasons and years” (Galatians 4:10), we may miss you entirely. And so we ask, in this season, that you would draw near to us by your Spirit. Quiet us with your presence. Make us know more deeply the joys and delights of intimacy with you. And so we pray as a church… Lord, have mercy.
And now deliver us, Lord, from meaningless ritual. We receive ashes on our foreheads tonight not as a bare religious symbol, but as a sign of true spiritual humility before you. May the state of our hearts be commensurate with this mark on our bodies, so that You might be glorified in the contrition of your people. Amen.