O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
our lives are laid open before you:
rescue us from the chaos of sin
and through the death of your Son
bring us healing and make us whole
in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Have mercy on me, O God, in your great goodness;
according to the abundance of your compassion
blot out my offences.
Wash me thoroughly from my wickedness
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my faults
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you only have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
So that you are justified in your sentence
and righteous in your judgement.
I have been wicked even from my birth,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.
Behold, you desire truth deep within me
and shall make me understand wisdom
in the depths of my heart.
Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean;
wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me hear of joy and gladness,
that the bones you have broken may rejoice.
Turn your face from my sins
and blot out all my misdeeds.
Make me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence
and take not your holy spirit from me.
Give me again the joy of your salvation
and sustain me with your gracious spirit;
Then shall I teach your ways to the wicked
and sinners shall return to you.
Deliver me from my guilt, O God,
the God of my salvation,
and my tongue shall sing of your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
For you desire no sacrifice, else I would give it;
you take no delight in burnt offerings.
The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.
Matthew 6.1-6, 16-21
Jesus said to the disciples, ‘Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
‘So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
‘And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’
Do not be like the hypocrites …
Today is Ash Wednesday, the day on which we begin our Lenten pilgrimage. We all know that a pilgrimage involves a journey, but how many of us fully comprehends the difference between a pilgrimage and a recreational excursion? The difference lies in both purpose and intention. As with any journey away from homely comforts, both pilgrimage and excursion lead us into unfamiliar territory. Both pilgrimage and excursion can provide refreshment and renewal. However, it is only pilgrimage that is linked to the express intention of spiritual transformation. When viewed in this light, our journey through the season of Lent takes on a truly profound significance.
The forty days of Lent draws us into a personal engagement with the gospel account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. For forty days, immediately following his baptism in the Jordan, Jesus was tempted to demonstrate his divine power for personal advantage and to renounce his oneship with God. The persuasive language of the Devil was powerful, but Jesus’ resolve to remain true to his calling was even more powerful. As we journey through Lent, we are called to remain just as strong in the steadfastness of our faith.
Over the centuries it has become common for people to give something up for Lent. In earlier times this fasting involved such practices as eating only one meal in each twenty-four hour period, as well as totally abstaining from the eating of meat. More recently our Lenten disciplines have revolved around chocolate and alcohol. For many, the observance of Lent has become divorced from any notion of spiritual transformation.
In today’s reading Jesus reminds us how deep-seated our ongoing spiritual pilgrimage should be. Jesus speaks of almsgiving, prayer, fasting and self-denial. Each of these practices has long been associated with helping us to focus on that which is truly and spiritually significant. However, as Jesus reminds us of the spiritual importance of these disciplines he also adds another dimension … he tells us not to be hypocrites and to make our spiritual journey in secret.
Human beings like to show off. We especially like people to see when we are being or doing ‘good’. It is this trait that Jesus is warning us against. The word hypocrite was used in ancient times to mean ‘actor’. Actors are those who convincingly pretend to be other people. Such a way of behaving does not bring us nearer to God, instead it leads further and further away from Him. Making a public display of our almsgiving, prayer and fasting only serves to reinforce the superficial nature of our play-acting approach to living the holy life which is God’s call to us all.
Today we are called to start again. God is calling us to stop diverting our energies into showing others how ‘holy’ we are. God is calling us to focus solely on our relationship with Him. In his words Jesus has laid the path for the perfect Lenten pilgrimage. All we have to do is to follow that path until we, ultimately, come to the joy of the resurrection.
Prayers of Intercession
In penitence and faith seeking the path of holiness, let us pray to the Lord.
Inspire your Church to witness to her Lord at this season by following him in humility and simplicity of life. Give us wisdom to make good resolves and grace to maintain them. Grant that we may so deepen and purify our worship that we shall know more fully your holy will.
We pray for those who use the good things of this world selfishly and for those whose power makes them insensitive to the needs of others. Show them the way of love and self-denial. Cleanse the peoples of the earth from worshipping the false gods of wealth and possessions.
Fill us with the grace of prayer and service. Enable us to give ourselves more readily, in our homes, our work and all our dealings with others. Shield those known to us who are beset by temptation to do wrong.
We pray for those whose lives are austere not by choice but by misfortune; for those who have no comforts to renounce because they struggle to survive. We pray for the starving and undernourished, the homeless and the unprotected.
Have mercy on the dead who once trusted in the things of this world. Have mercy on those who looked for salvation through their own deeds. In your unfailing love, grant them the eternal life which all may gain through faith but none can merit.
Sorrowful for our sins and joyful for the means of pardon, we begin our Lenten pilgrimage in prayer.
Prayer for the week
shine upon all who are in the darkness of suffering or grief;
that in your light
they may receive hope and courage,
and in your presence
may find their rest and peace;
for your love’s sake. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
Let us pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.
From the deep places, hear my cry,
those hidden depths of guilt within:
O God of mercy, God Most High,
keep no account of all my sin.
O Lord, in whom all needs are met,
draw near in love to me, I pray,
for on your word my hopes are set,
as watchmen wait for coming day.
Timothy Dudley-Smith (b. 1926)
based on Psalm 130