Thursday, February 15, 2018

A Prayer for Parkland, Florida | Ash Wednesday Liturgy and Songs + Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Wednesday, February 14, 2018 + The First Day of Lent

This evening, Emmaus City Church had the humble privilege of joining with The River Community Church, Fairlawn CRC, people looking to form a new congregation in East Boston, and Pleasant Street in Whitinsville, Massachusetts for an Ash Wednesday service. 

The Lenten mass was a sober, yet hopeful time, or as others might describe it, "a bright sadness." And on a day when another high school massacre occurred in Parkland, Florida, with 17 total dead as of this post, it was desperately needed.

As the news cycle continues to remind us that we are often desperately and feverishly inhuman to each other, and that our inclinations and actions seem to seek death in this world as much as life, it was a necessary reminder to to remember tonight that we are not God, though we nightmarishly play at trying to control and dominate the world without Him. We are dust, and yet He is somehow full of mercy and compassion, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love for this dust. He is somehow the One who can form, renew, and even resurrect these ashes into people filled with His hope, peace, and justice in the face of overwhelming darkness.

In light of Him and the hope that He is the Light our darkness cannot overcome, here is a prayer for the grieving and afflicted in Parkland, Florida:

LORD, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. We are overwhelmed by our violence and grief tonight. King Jesus, You are our Victor, and today we need you both as our reigning King over evil, death, and violence, as well as our man of sorrows who knows our weaknesses and endured the nightmares of the licks of the fires of hell when You walked this earth. In our shock, we ask, 'How?!' LORD. In our fear, we ask, 'Why?!' LORD. In our Spirit-fueled desperate hope, we cry, 'Are You able to overcome, LORD?!' Please Holy Spirit, minister to the broken, bloodied, and terrified who call Parkland, Florida home. Make Your presence known to this area northwest of Miami. Don't let them fall into the hellish despair of a reality where You are not with them through this. Also be with the victims' families. Jesus, You are the Light the darkness cannot overcome. Go to the wakes and funerals and don't let the demons play on the prey of the devastated souls. And Jesus, I pray You were with all of those who breathed their last today. In their final moments, I pray they saw Your face and reached for Your nail-scarred hands, and that now they are free from fear and violence with You. And I pray You somehow in Your infinite mercy and grace You will meet the murderer. Father, don't let him out of Your hands. Rip the enemy's grip away from him. Rescue his mind and body. Save his soul even as he faces justice for the awful crimes he has committed. Through Your kindness, lead him to repentance and may he forgive himself one day in light of Your overwhelming grace. Prince of Peace, we need You to defeat the prince of the power of the air right now. Don't hold back. We're desperate. We pray all these things in confidence because we are praying in the almighty name of King Jesus. Amen.

Apart from Christ, our lives are marinated in mess and crumple into darkness and ash. This is the vivid reminder of Ash Wednesday with its imposition of ashes onto our foreheads. With Christ, however, darkness gives way to light and restoration. + St. Peter’s Fireside

Lenten Liturgy of Prayer, Song, Word, Ashes, Spirit, and Life + Ash Wednesday, February 14

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a season of self-examination, reflection, and preparation for the celebration of Jesus' resurrection. While it is an ancient tradition, it also powerfully speaks to our modern condition because it calls us to engage in renewal. Theologian Robert Webber reminds us:

We too easily forget our Maker and Redeemer, replacing God with things and ambition. Lent is the season that calls us back to God, back to basics, back to the spiritual realities of life. It calls us to put to death the sin and the indifference we have in our hearts toward God and our fellow persons. And it beckons us to enter once again into the joy of the Lord, the joy of a new life born out of a death to the old life. + Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality Through the Christian Year

Call: May this Ash Wednesday vesper call us back to God and be a time to experience the richness of Christ's goodness and grace. 
Response: The Lord be with you!

Call to Worship + Psalm 124:8, 42:5-6a

Call: Our help is in the name of the Lord,
Response: Who made heaven and earth.
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?
Response: Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my help and my God.

Come, Oh Redeemer, Come
By Fernando Ortego
1996 A.D.

Father, enthroned on high, holy, holy.
Ancient eternal Light, hear our prayers.

Come, O Redeemer, come, grant us mercy.
Come, O Redeemer, come, grant us peace.

Lord, save us from the dark of our striving,
Faithless and troubled hearts weighed down.

Look now upon our need, Lord, be with us.
Heal us and make us free from our sin.

Silent Reflection on Lenten Repentance

Jesus I Come
By William T. Sleeper, minister of Summer St. Congregational Church in Worcester, Massachusetts, late 1800s
1887 A.D.

Out of my bondage, sorrow and night,
Jesus, I come; Jesus I come.
Into Thy freedom, gladness and light,
Jesus, I come to Thee.
Out of my sickness into Thy health,
Out of my wanting and into Thy wealth,
Out of my sin and into Thyself,
Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of my shameful failure and loss,
Jesus, I come; Jesus, I come.
Into the glorious gain of Thy cross,
Jesus, I come to Thee.
Out of earth’s sorrows into Thy balm,
Out of life’s storms and into Thy calm,
Out of distress into jubilant psalm,
Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of the fear and dread of the tomb,
Jesus, I come; Jesus, I come.
Into the joy and light of Thy home,
Jesus, I come to Thee.
Out of the depths of ruin untold,
Into the peace of Thy sheltering fold,
Ever Thy glorious face to behold,
Jesus, I come to Thee.

Homily | Frightening Words, Comforting Promise + Matthew 11:20-2428

Do we see ourselves as worthy of God's justice and judgment? Did those in Bethsaida or Chorizin? Tyre or Sidon? Capernaum or Sodom? Do we today in our modern cities and towns?
How do we justify ourselves in light of what we do and don't do? Are there universal standards determine worthiness and value? How do we rise up? How do we fall short? Is there good that overcomes evil outside of us as well as inside of this?
During this beginning of Lent, are we willing to see ourselves through the eyes of Someone who is good, right, perfect, and just? If so, do we measure up? And if not, is grace and mercy offered even to us at our worst? 
Will we trust that the One who spoke the words that reveal our hypocritical and judgmental hearts in Matthew 11:20-24, and then shortly thereafter spoke the words of Matthew 11:28: Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 
Do we consider that invitation for us despite our falling short, despite our violence, indifference, and inability to change? Will we come to Him needing His grace, needing His cross, needing His resurrection and coming Kingdom? Will we come to Him believing He can overcome? Will we find our salvation in repentance and rest in Him? Or will we have none of it?

Prayer of Confession + Psalm 51:1-4, 6, 9-12

Call: Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your steadfast love;
according to Your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Response: Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
Call: For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Response: Against You, You alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified in Your sentence and blameless when You pass judgment.
Call: You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Response: Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
Call: Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Response: Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

Silent Confession

African American Spiritual
1800s A.D.

I want Jesus to walk with me,
I want Jesus to walk with me!
All along my pilgrim journey,
Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me!

In my trials, Lord, walk with me,
In my trials, Lord, walk with me!
When the shades of life are falling,
Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me!

When I'm in trouble, Lord, walk with me,
When I'm in trouble, Lord, walk with me!
When my head is bowed in sorrow,
Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me.


Almighty God, You have created us out of the dust of the earth. May these ashes be a sign of our mortality and penitence. Help us always remember that it is only be Your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

Imposition of Ashes + Genesis 3:19, Romans 6:11

Rock of Ages
Augustus M. Toplady
1776 A.D.

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save me from its guilt and power.

Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All could never sin erase,
Thou must save, and save by grace.

Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace:
Foul, I to the fountain fly,
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
When mine eyes shall close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.

Assurance of Pardon + 1 Peter 2:24

Call: "Jesus bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by His wounds we have been healed." Know that you are forgiven, and be at peace. 
Response: Thanks be to God!

Passing the Peace

Call: The peace of Christ be with you all.
Response: And also with you.

Throughout These Lenten Days and Nights
By James Gertmenian
1993 A.D.

Throughout these Lenten days and nights 
We turn to walk the inward way, 
Where, meeting Christ, our guide and Light, 
We live in hope 'till Easter Day. 

The pilgrim Christ, the Lamb of God, 
Who found in weakness greater power, 
Embraces us, though lost and flawed, 
And leads us to His Rising Hour.

We bear the silence, cross and pain 
Of human burdens, human strife, 
While sisters, brothers help sustain 
Our courage 'till the Feast of Life.


Gracious God, out of Your love and mercy You breathed into dust the breath of life, creating us to serve You and our neighbors. In this season of repentance, restore to us the joy of our salvation and strengthen us to face our mortality, that we may reach with confidence for Your mercy in Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.


Call: Ever mindful of our frailty, and through humble reliance on Christ alone, let us go forth to serve the world as those who love our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Response: Thanks to be God!

For more details about how Emmaus City needs Jesus and seeks to join Him in loving Worcester during this season of Lent, here are a few links:

We would love for you to join us in exploring our need for Christ together.

Rev. Mike "Sully" Sullivan

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