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Thursday, March 06, 2014

ash wednesday - the "hands" service

In 2011 we were experiencing what I called blessed pandemonium on Wednesday nights. This year Wednesday nights are a bit tamer, but they are still multi-generational and include the men from the group home in our neighborhood. So, with the multiple attention levels and learning style needs present, we re-used the format from our Ash Wednesday service in 2011.

Our Ash Wednesday liturgy is about sin, death, and repentance and (as in 2011) is taken from the wide-ranging and weighty words of Psalm 44.  That Psalm has a number of references to "hands," so we decided to have a more kinesthetic learning-style service in order to really engage the children, youth, and group home folks alongside our adult members.

We used Psalm 44 as the structure for the whole service, and we used our hands (literally!) to understand and work through each part of it.  Here are the basics, and I will link to the order of worship below.  When I realized we'd be using our hands throughout, we did away with the bulletin and projected all the scripture and music on the screen.

Psalm 44:1-8   We opened with a Call to Worship and time of thanks and praise these verses, which celebrates God's faithfulness in times past.  We saw a visual of a strong hand.

We sang "Give Thanks" to express our thankfulness to God for that faithfulness.
Psalm 44:9-14    We talked about anger and blaming God for our circumstances and read these verses together while tightly clenching our hands into fists and holding that through these "God, look what you have done to us" verses.  (After 2-3 min of tight clenching, that's an interesting feeling and we talked about what holding on to anger does to us on the inside!) For blaming God (or self) we pointed our finger towards ourselves.
Psalm 44:17-19    The Psalm moves into more of a pleading tone, saying, "but we have not forgotten you (Lord)."  We clasped our hands into a child-like prayer gesture and prayed these verses together.  I then spoke briefly, asking whether Israel (and we) might have forgotten God, despite these words.
Psalm 44:20-22   We continued with "extended hands" (as if grasping for something), focusing on the words about "extending our hands to a strange god" - and I spoke briefly on sin and idolatries we sometimes reach for instead of God.

And with that move from anger to pleading to self-examination (which reminds me of the stages of grief!) led us into a prayer of confession.  I had been looking for a time in which we could join hands.  This didn't seem the obvious time, but we did and I reminded the congregation that though sin isolates, we are never alone - indeed, scripture reminds us that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" - and so we prayed a prayer of confession together - eyes open reading screen - and holding hands.  Very interesting...

Psalm 44:23-24    These verses literally ask some questions of God - "Why do you sleep?  Why do you hide your face?" - so we raised one hand like a child would at school if asking a question, and we read these verses together.
Psalm 44:25    I noted that this verse is the next to last in the Psalm and is where we end up without God intervening to save.  "Our soul has sunk down into the dust; our body cleaves to the earth."  And at that point we had the imposition of ashes.
Psalm 44:26    Then the Psalm ends with a plea for help and hope: "Rise up, be our help, and redeem us..."  We read that, sang another song: "Give Us Clean Hands."
The benediction was from Romans 8:35-39, which quotes Psalm 44, which we had just read: "For your sake we are being put to death... sheep to the slaughter," but which surrounds that with one of the most hope-filled declarations of the Gospel in scripture: "Nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ..."  I asked the congregation to hold out their hands in a receiving gesture as I spoke these words of blessing over them.


If you are interested in my notes or the PowerPoint slides just e-mail me at robert@gspc.net.

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