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‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return’

Ashes, communion elements and a Pauline epistle form foundation for Presbyterian Center’s Ash Wednesday service

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

“Remember that you are dust,” the Rev. Dr. David Gambrell reminded worshipers during the Ash Wednesday service in the Chapel at the Presbyterian Center, “and to dust you shall return.” (Photo by Rich Copley)

LOUISVILLE — After a simple and beautiful Ash Wednesday service, worshipers left the Chapel at the Presbyterian Center nourished by the Lord’s Supper and marked with ashes imposed on their foreheads.

“We begin this holy season by acknowledging our need for repentance, and for the mercy and forgiveness proclaimed by the gospel of Jesus Christ,” said the Rev. Dr. David Gambrell, associate for worship in the Office of Theology and Worship and Wednesday’s preacher. The ancient sign of ashes “speaks of the frailty and uncertainty of human life and marks the penitence of this community.”

Gambrell weaved his sermon together with Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, found in 2 Cor. 5:20b-6:10, where God tells the church in Corinth, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”

“See, now is the acceptable time,” Paul tells the church. “See, now is the day of salvation!” As “servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God … We are treated as imposters, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see — we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

In Christ’s name, Gambrell invited worshipers to observe a “holy Lent” through self-examination and penitence, by prayer and fasting, through works of love — and by meditating on God’s word.

The Rev. Dr. Kathryn Threadgill, coordinator of Vital Congregations, poured juice and broke bread in silence Wednesday. (Photo by Rich Copley)

“Now is the time,” Gambrell said, hearkening back to Paul and then adding these words: “not because we are ready, but because God is gracious;  not because we are able, but because Christ is faithful;  not because we are willing, but because the Spirit is at work.”

“Now Is the time,” he said again, “not because it is convenient, but because we are struggling; not because all is well, but because this world is broken; not because it will be easy, but because God will be with us.”

And once more: “Now Is the time, not because we are strong, but because we are weak;
not because we want to, but because this is our only hope; not because we can, but because we must.”

The Rev. Dr. Paul Huh, a translator in Global Language Resources, plays the haegum during worship on Ash Wednesday. (Photo by Rich Copley)

“Beloved people of God,” Gambrell concluded, “Let us be reconciled to God and to one another in Jesus’ name. Now is the time.”

Worship on this Ash Wednesday employed elements spanning multiple continents. The Rev. Dr. Paul Huh accompanied hymns Including “Search Me, O God,” (“Glory to God” #426) “As the Wind Song (#292) and “Lord, I Want to Be a Christian” (#729) on a haegum, a two-stringed vertical fiddle used in many Korean musical genres. His left hand controlled the pitch and vibrato by pulling the strings toward the neck; there Is no fingerboard. With his right hand, Huh moved the bow horizontally between the strings while controlling the tension of the horsehair.

Here’s what remained on the communion table following worship Wednesday in the Chapel at the Presbyterian Center. (Photo by Rich Copley)

Presiding at communion, the Rev. Dr. Kathryn Threadgill, Vital Congregations coordinator, led worshipers through a traditional litany, then broke bread and poured juice Into the cup In silence.

“Create In me a clean heart,” worshipers said together, quoting Psalm 51:10, “and renew a right spirit within me.”

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