Ash Wednesday Prayer Experience
Station 1: Repent and Release
A large room with low lighting. In the middle of the room is a canvas prayer labyrinth. Prayer labyrinths help people to take a spiritual journey. They have been around for a thousand years. The theme for this walk is confession and forgiveness.
1. As participants enter the room, they are invited to sign in.
2. They read Rend Your Hearts, a Blessing for Ash Wednesday by Jan L. Richardson.
3. They receive ashes applied to their forehead in the shape of a cross. The host speaks the words, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. Repent and believe the Gospel,” as the ashes are applied.
4. The participants remove their shoes.
5. The participants read the following: All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23 NRSV). If we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9 NRSV) Take a rock to symbolize the weight of guilt that we hold when we carry sin in our lives. As you walk through the labyrinth towards the center, walk with Christ and use that time to ask for forgiveness for these sins. When you reach the center, leave your rock there and know that when you release your burdens to the Lord, you can walk away free and without shame. In Christ, God has forgiven you and taken the load you bear.
6. The participants choose a rock from a basket of rocks and walk/pray the prayer labyrinth as instructed, walking to the center and following the same path back out.
7. The participants put their shoes back on and move to the next prayer station.
Watching persons walk the labyrinth can be as moving an experience as walking it yourself. Much of Ash Wednesday, I had the joy of welcoming persons and explaining the meaning of this type of spiritual journey. Here’s just a few of the stories.
A small group leader said her rock felt lighter and lighter as she approached the center of the labyrinth.
A mom who came earlier in the day later brought back her whole family and a few of the neighborhood children. She walked the path again, this time carrying her infant son. Her husband carried him on the way back out of the labyrinth. The children stopped and prayed with each other when they reached the center, a sacred circle of siblings and friends.
A 93 year young seasoned saint who smiled and giggled. “I finished the whole thing.” So many of us are inspired by her faithfulness, grace, and enthusiasm for all that is Godly. She reminded me of the joy found in staying the course and finishing well with Christ. (Hebrews 12:1-3)
An elderly gentleman who confessed, “I tend to wander from the path.” He said this experience was the most profound Ash Wednesday experience he had ever had.
A three year old shuffling his feet quickly along the path who would now and then leap the purple divider between paths like an Olympic long jumper. He finished several journeys while his family completed their one journey. Each time he finished he would come over to me and shout, “I win!” His words rang with the victory over sin and death we find in Jesus. (Consider 1 Corinthians 15:54-57, 1 John 5:3-4 or Zephaniah 3:17)
In the quiet of the afternoon, I had a chance to walk the labyrinth myself. Each time I walk one, the experience is different. During my walk, I was joined by a frail women who had just come from a cancer treatment. As we made our way, her stuggle was evident. This could be her last Lenten journey. It could be mine. The ashes on her head spoke of her reality, a mortality we all share, “From dust you were born and to dust you shall return.” She chose to shorten her journey to the center. There she prayed and released her rock and her other burdens.
In watching her, I was so very grateful for God’s grace and forgiveness in that moment. There is no need to to follow a path made with human hands, no need to navigate rituals or rules, no need wait for God’s presence and pardon. “See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” (2 Corinthians 6:2)
A huge THANK YOU to our friends at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando, Florida for lending us their canvas prayer labyrinth.
This station is the first of four prayer stations designed for use on Ash Wednesday. They could of course be used anytime when the themes for self reflection and prayer include our mortality, our sorrow for our sin, and recommitment to living in alignment with God’s holy will.
© 2012 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia and Nicole Sallee. You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution. Please contact Lisa for information and permission to publish this work in any form.
For more information on the scripture translation, photos and the use of this resource in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page.