Infectious Ashes

I was recently asked if I would write some resources for Ash Wednesday or the beginning of Lent that reflected a year marked with COVID-19. Here is one of the two I created, but both are available in a document you can download at the bottom of the post.


Over 2 million deaths worldwide due to COVID-19
Over 425,000* deaths in the United States* due to COVID-19
Over 8,000* deaths in Tennessee* due to COVID-19
Over 700* deaths in Nashville* due to COVID-19
(Name those in or connected to your congregation who have died due to COVID-19 if any)
We have felt a sharp pain of loss.

Join our sorrow, O God of dust and breath.
(Pause—deep breath in and out)

The ashes that mark this season of Lent seem almost infectious as COVID-19 ravages our world.
This virus has spread like poison, showing us how fragile we are,
and we have felt its painful sting, reminded that we are dust.

New realities weave into our lives:
Shutdowns have cost some their jobs and made others excruciatingly difficult.
Grandchildren have visited grandparents through glass windows.
Birthdays and graduations have been celebrated in drive-by processions.
Holidays typically filled with noise and joy shrank into near silence.
Our worship spaces have been reduced to the glow of a computer screen.
We are sequestered, solitary, and waiting

God, you breathed life into dust, uniting Spirit with clay, but these days we are feeling more dusty than ever.

Hear our pain, O God of dust and breath.
(Pause—deep breath in and out)

2 Corinthians 4: 7-12
But we have this treasure in jars of clay 
to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not in despair; 
persecuted, but not abandoned; 
struck down, but not destroyed. 
We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 
For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake,
so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.
So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

Lend us hope, O God of dust and breath.
(Pause—deep breath in and out)

Stir within us, Holy Spirit!
Remind the dust within our bones that it was shaped into being for a purpose.
Spur our gaze onward to the cross and challenge us to join in the death of Christ,
knowing that no violence, no virus, no challenge we face
can destroy Christ’s hope that lives in and among us.

May we be infectiously hopeful as we carry this gospel message with us,
spreading God’s unfailing love and peace in a world of ash.

Send us out, O God of dust and breath.
(Pause—deep breath in and out)


Potential Songs of Response or Meditation

*These numbers rapidly change and they reflect the time that I wrote this litany as well as my own location. You will need to adjust these places and figures to reflect your own congregational location and time of use.
**Not all churches use responsive readings or are drawn to more informal liturgy. This litany is created to adapt to these circumstances, so that you can take out the bold responses and divide the sections into different voices. However, I would encourage you to keep the breaks, let the words sit, and give people space to breath. If you have musicians able to contribute short musical breaks that add to the flow rather than disturb it, have them contribute at these points.
***Whether together in person or still worshiping at home, a congregation open to using body postures could use these examples to remained physically engaged throughout the litany:
Section one (beginning through “join our sorrow”): seated, hands gripping knees, hunched shoulders, head down
Section two (through “hear our pain”): seated, face forward, right fist over heart
Section three (through “lend us hope”): seated, face up, hands stretched out in front with palms turned upward
Section four (through “send us out”): standing, face and chest up, arms at sides, relaxed

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