I will be presiding over the communion table for an ecumenical Ash Wednesday service. We did this service several years ago when I was at the Baptist church. We included clergy from the United Church of Christ, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, United Methodist Church. This year clergy from the Episcopal Church will join us.
The original text for the communion liturgy was from Words for Worship 2017 by Augsburg Fortress. I took the basic outline of the liturgy, which had a nice touch by including the beginning of the third verse from “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in the Words of Institution and then reworked it to emphasize the Holy Spirit, which is in the opening prayer of this service.
I also wanted to make the Words of Institution more interactive with the congregation, so at the breaking of the bread and the pouring out of the wine, I’m asking the congregation to supply the words (after some gentle prompting). Finally, as this service seeks to be inclusive, I chose a version of the Lord’s Prayer found in A New Zealand Prayer Book (Harper Collins 1999. Originally published by The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia 1989)
The Sanctus is sung. If you use this liturgy, choose a Sanctus as there are many settings.
Here’s the liturgy:
Come to this table if you are alone. Come to this table if you grieve. Come to this table if you seek to be healed. Come to this table if you seek peace. Come to this table if you yearn to be free.
Friends, this is not an Episcopal table. It is not a Lutheran or a Methodist table. It is not a table for Reformed Protestants and it is not a table for Catholics. This is God’s table. This is the celestial banquet rooted in God’s love. Everyone has a place at this table. Everyone is welcome.
God be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to God.
Let us give thanks to God Most High.
It is right to give God thanks and praise.
Indeed it is right in all times and places to give God thanks and praise. We give thanks for the gift and bounty of creation which began when God’s breath blew over the waters. We give thanks for the breath of life, which animates us and instills in us the power to pursue justice in this world for all people and all creation. Though our forebears were enslaved and oppressed, God drove a strong wind to make the waters stand like walls and then led them to freedom. We remember that after Judah’s exile in Babylon, God set in our ancestors a new spirit and changed their hearts of stone to hearts of flesh. We give thanks that God came in Jesus to live among us and to share our common lot. Jesus’ teachings and ministry threatened the powerful authorities, which led them to execute him on a Roman cross. After three days in the tomb, Jesus slipped death’s shackles and that evening breathed upon his disciples saying “Receive the Holy Spirit.” He went on to minister and teach until his final ascension to rule with God and the Holy Spirit. Gifted by the Holy Spirit, we join the choir of angels and the great cloud of witnesses to sing the ancient hymn:
Words of Institution
God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
You have brought us this far along the way.
As we begin our journey to the cross we know You will not abandon us.
You will guide us on the path of love and light
You will instill in us the power and courage to proclaim you peace and justice through our ministries of healing and grace.
We come to this table remembering his final meal, which he shared with his disciples. As they shared memories of their ministry throughout Galilee with him and the days in Jerusalem leading up to that night ….
By eating this bread and drinking this fruit of the vine, we boldly proclaim:
Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.
Send your Holy Spirit, O God, upon this bread and this fruit of the vine. By this meal, make us one as the body of Christ, your church. Give us strength for the journey before us. Instill in us courage to proclaim through our ministries your peace and your justice rooted in steadfast love for all people and all Creation. We ask this with this prayer:
Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver, Source of all that is and that shall be, Father and Mother of us all, Loving God, in whom is heaven: The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world! Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth.
With the bread we need for today, feed us. In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us. In times of temptation and test, strengthen us. From trials too great to endure, spare us. From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and forever. Amen.
Sharing the Feast
Unison Prayer of Thanksgiving
Most gracious and generous God, we give you thanks for gathering this community from many faith traditions to share this sacred meal. Thank you for nourishing us as we prepare to begin our journey to the cross. We pray that your Spirit will strengthen us and embolden us to proclaim through our ministries that love trumps fear and that shadowed beneath your hand we will stand true to you and true to our native land. Amen.