Lent begins with Ash Wednesday on 6 March 2019. Counting 40 days, excluding Sundays, Lent will end on 20 April. In biblical terms, the number 40 connotes completion or fullness.
Lent is a penitential season. It is a time to reflect and prepare our hearts as we remember Jesus’ Passion, and a time to ponder the implications of the Passion narrative in daily living. It is more than “giving up something” during the season. Thus, Sundays are excluded because it is the Lord’s Day, which is more celebratory in tone.1
Ash Wednesday points us to our mortality. During an Ash Wednesday service, the words “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19) are spoken as ashes are drawn on the forehead. The ashes, as the hymn tells us, are from the palms kept from the previous year’s Palm (or Passion) Sunday.
The hymn, found in The Faith We Sing (#2138)—a supplement to The United Methodist Hymnal (1989)—seems to be specifically for Ash Wednesday. Its first stanza tells us to kneel and go back to the Lord to seek His pardon. The second and third stanzas are words we can utter as a prayer of confession during Lent.
This hymn may be used as a Lenten discipline. First, we go to the Lord with contrite hearts and seek His pardon. Second, we think about loving our neighbours and perhaps make a Lenten offering. For example, Methodist Welfare Services is offering an opportunity to serve the community through ad hoc or regular volunteering.2 Third, believing that God is gracious and full of compassion and mercy, we accept His grace and ask Him to restore us and give us new hearts.
Not much is written about the author, Rae Whitney, an Episcopalian poet, but worth mentioning here is her approach to hymn writing as outlined in a lecture at College of St Mary in 2009:
A text writer needs to have certain skills in verse writing, but also something to
teach; she should have a knowledge of the Bible, and a living faith in God as
revealed in Christ. A hymn should help others to worship in spirit and in truth,
and encourage in them a love of God.3
Sunday’s Palms are Wednesday’s Ashes
(The Faith We Sing #2138)
Sunday’s palms are Wednesday’s ashes
As another Lent begins;
thus we kneel before our Maker
In contrition for our sins.
We have marred baptismal pledges,
in rebellion gone astray;
now, returning, seek forgiveness;
grant us pardon God this day
We have failed to love our neighbours,
their offences to forgive,
have not listened to their troubles,
nor have cared just how they live,
we are jealous, proud, impatient,
loving over much our things;
may the yielding of our failings
be our Lenten offerings
We are hasty to judge others,
blind to proof of human need;
and our lack of understanding
demonstrates our inner greed;
we have wasted earth’s resources;
want and suffering we’ve ignored;
come and cleanse us, then restore us;
make new hearts within us, Lord.
Words: Rae E. Whitney
Music: BEACH SPRING (also used in UMH 581), Attr. to B. F. White
1 Laurence Hull Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press), 79.
2 Visit www.mws.sg/volunteer to learn more.
3 Mary Wheeler Burnett, Hope, Joy, and Wonder: The Hymns of Rae E. Whitney (Master’s Thesis), https://dspace.sewanee.edu/handle/11005/292.
Judith Laoyan-Mosomos is the Director for Worship and Church Music at the Methodist School of Music, and a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.
Picture by Rahwik/Bigstock.com