After perhaps a year or more of not gathering on-site for Ash Wednesday services due to the COVID-19 pandemic, worshiping communities across a large swath of the US are dealing with or expecting severe weather that would prevent gathering on-site. This solemn observance is a treasured one in the liturgical year, a day to be gathered with one another and to have the ashen cross marked on our forehead, reminding us of the dust from which we came and to where we will return.
Conversations on social media have begun, as fellow worship planners ask one another what they are doing when assembling for worship on-site will not be possible. Below are some ideas to consider.
Incorporating elements of Ash Wednesday Worship into the First Sunday in Lent Ash Wednesday begins the forty-day journey to Easter, but elements of this service could begin the Sunday worship service on the first Sunday in Lent. Consider beginning the service for Lent 1 with Psalm 51 or another penitential psalm and the Invitation to Lent (Evangelical Lutheran Worship p. 252; Leaders Desk Edition, p. 617). Instead of what you had planned as an order for confession for that day, consider using the extended confession (pp. 252-253) followed by the Imposition of Ashes.
Following the Imposition of Ashes, the service would continue with the prayer of the day for Lent 1 and then move into the Word portion of the service. It may be desired to use the Lent 1 scripture readings or a combination of Ash Wednesday or Lent 1 depending upon your context.
Online worship options
Perhaps the best option for your assembly is to provide an online option, just as you may have done during the past few years.
Although not essential, you may wish to find ashes, soil, or water to mark the sign of the cross on your own forehead, either during an online service, an individual meditation time or family worship at home, or at another point during the day. All three signify death and new life — the ashes from the palm branches of last year; common soil since human beings in Genesis 2 are earth creatures made of dust; and, water which in baptism joins us to the death of Christ.
You may have access to ashes from a local congregation or by burning palms from a previous Palm Sunday service. Soil can simply be dug from the earth near where you live. Water can be any water, perhaps from the tap in your home.
Transferring to another time
Some assemblies might consider offering an on-site worship option at another time prior to Lent 1 if weather conditions have improved.
Others might look to moving the observance a week later. If doing so, note that the language for the Invitation to Lent (ELW LE p. 617) would need very slight adjustment to acknowledge we have already begun the Lenten season.
As you begin these days of Lent in many and various ways, blessings as you remember and are remembered by the God who is gracious and merciful, and abounding in steadfast love.