When I haven’t programmed the song, I get more comments than when I do. Nearly all of the criticism I’ve seen is online, and since online folks aren’t my parishioners, it doesn’t register that much with me.
When it came out in 1978, Tom Conry’s piece was one of the few strophic hymns in the contemporary repertoire. So it was different. It’s also as easily identifiable as “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today.” Other composers have tried to grab a share of the Ash Wednesday spotlight, like here or here. Nice songs, too. But not ready to replace this one.
I get the hand-wringing on the hint of pelagianism. I really do. But the rising isn’t the agency of the believer. Check verse 4, which places the initiative solely in the hands of God:
Thanks be to the Spirit who creates the world anew.
When I use this hymn, I make sure to sing all four verses. It doesn’t make much sense to do otherwise.
All that said, I appreciate Tom Conry as a songwriter and theologian. But I do think this early work of his can be improved upon. I’d say there’s a place for an Ash Wednesday closing hymn (or song) based on some text other than Scripture. Personally, I think Psalm 90 is an overlooked text for the day. And there’s much to plumb in 2 Corinthians 5 before verse 20.
So I’ve come full circle from ten years ago, when I tried to phase out “Ashes.” I program it now, and I don’t apologize for it.