The Collect (prayer) for Ash Wednesday in the Book of Common Prayer says:
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, for ever and ever. Amen.If you hang around the Church long enough, you’ll find that most critics have one of two problems with it. Either “there’s too much grace” or “there’s too much judgment.” What I love about this prayer is that it embraces that tension:
It has too much grace – “you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent... the God of all mercy...” and it has too much judgment – “worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness.”
And so does God.
Ash Wednesday is about new beginnings. It is about repentance (literally “changing direction”). It is about re-turning to God that offers forgiveness and away from the separation leads to sin and death. It is judgmental to say “we all fall short of the glory of God.” It is grace to say “God desires not the death of sinners.” And it is exactly what the Church ought to be saying.
Ash Wednesday is a reminder to worship; to worthily lament my sins; to bask in God’s grace. Grant us "perfect remission and forgiveness," Oh Lord, over and over again.