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Observing Ash Wednesday in Your Home

A gray ceramic bowl filled with ashes.

As Christians, we believe that the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is the most important thing to ever happen to us (or to the world, for that matter)! God loved us so much that he sent his only son to die for us, to redeem us from our sins, and to restore us to a life with Himself. Just as Advent is a time of preparation for the miraculous birth of Christ, so Lent is a time of preparation for Easter. In Lent, we are on a pilgrimage with Christ. We walk through his forty days in the wilderness and end with His crucifixion, burial, and, finally, his glorious resurrection.

We start Lent with a very special service: Ash Wednesday. On Ash Wednesday, the Body of Christ gathers to enter this time of devotion corporately. During the service, we look at our mortality and the consequences of our sins. Traditionally, in the Bible, times of penitence were marked by the wearing of sackcloth and ashes. At the Ash Wednesday service, the forehead of each believer is marked with ashes in the sign of the cross, and we are reminded through these ashes that we are “but dust and to dust we shall return” (Genesis 3:19). These are the very words God spoke to Adam and Eve after they committed the first sin in the garden of Eden and they remind us that we too have “sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

Ways to Observe Ash Wednesday in Your Home

  • Do the devotion for the day with your family. After the devotion, hand out little slips of paper and pencils or pens. Ask your children to come up with an area of weakness in their lives that they need God’s help to change. Have them write that area down. Make sure you set an example by sharing a weakness and writing it down as well. Set the slips in an earthenware vessel and burn them with a match, or throw them into a fire burning in your fireplace or a fire pit outside. Explain to your children that just as their slips of paper are burned up and are no longer recognizable, so are our sins when we ask for forgiveness. 

  • Attend the Ash Wednesday service at your church. 

  • Make pretzels. The pretzel is the oldest Christian food and was created to accommodate the Lenten fast. Originating in Europe and created by monks, pretzels were made using only water, flour, and salt, simple ingredients that align with the Lenten emphasis on fasting and abstention from richer foods. Its distinctive twisted shape resembles arms crossed in prayer, making it an apt symbol for the penitential season of Lent.

  • Begin your Lenten fasts. Traditionally, nothing is eaten all day. Note: This should not be required of children. If a total fast is not possible, consider eating much smaller meals and avoiding meat. 

  • This is the day to institute the things that your family has decided to give up or abstain from during Lent.

  • Hang your family commitments sign on your refrigerator.

  • Decorate your home with signs that we have entered this season of penitence and preparation. 

  • Cover all of the icons and crosses in your home with purple cloth.

  • Remove all flowers and other signs of spring from your home and workplace so it will be all the more glorious when Easter finally arrives. 

  • Ask your children to go out and gather twigs and branches with no leaves. Tie a simple tie around them with purple fabric and hang them from your front door. This is a very beautiful and very dramatic reminder that we have entered the time (kairos) of Lent. 

  • Make a sign that says Vacare Deo, a Latin phrase that means to empty oneself for God.

  • Make an alms box and begin collecting your alms for the poor. A traditional sign to go on the container is, “The fasts of the rich are the feasts of the poor.” Place the container in a prominent place where everyone will be reminded of it every day. 

  • Since we will no longer say the word Alleluia throughout Lent, say goodbye to the Alleluias by having your children write Alleluia on a board, decorate it with flowers, and put it away in a chest, drawer, or closet until Easter Day.

  • Start your spring cleaning

Devotion for Ash Wednesday

Start the devotion with the lights lowered or turned off.

Leader: The light of Christ.

People: Thanks be to God.

Leader: Let us pray.


Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Light the candle at this time.

All together

O gladsome light,pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven,O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed!Now, as we come to the setting of the sun,and our eyes behold the vesper light,we sing your praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices,O Son of God, O Giver of Life, and to be glorified through all the worlds.

A Reading from Holy Scripture

Read: Joel 2:12-17 (NLT)

That is why the Lord says,“Turn to me now, while there is time.Give me your hearts.Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning.Don’t tear your clothing in your grief,but tear your hearts instead.”Return to the Lord your God,for he is merciful and compassionate,slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.He is eager to relent and not punish.Who knows? Perhaps he will give you a reprieve,sending you a blessing instead of this curse.Perhaps you will be able to offer grain and wineto the Lord your God as before.Blow the ram’s horn in Jerusalem!Announce a time of fasting;call the people togetherfor a solemn meeting.Gather all the people—the elders, the children, and even the babies.Call the bridegroom from his quartersand the bride from her private room.Let the priests, who minister in the Lord’s presence,stand and weep between the entry room to the Temple and the altar.Let them pray, “Spare your people, Lord!Don’t let your special possession become an object of mockery.Don’t let them become a joke for unbelieving foreigners who say,‘Has the God of Israel left them?’”

The Lord’s Prayer

All together

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, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Blessing

Parents, lay hands on each of your children and pray this blessing over them:

The Lord bless you and keep you. Amen. 

The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. Amen. 

The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. Amen.

People: Thanks be to God.


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