Rector's Ramblings March 6, 2019
At today’s Noon Ash Wednesday service, we had two children with us, the grandchildren of one of our parishioners. It is not rare for children to participate in Ash Wednesday services, per se, but these stood out to me because it was their first Ash Wednesday service. As the family came to the rail, I asked the mother if she would like them to receive ashes. Honestly, she was initially taken aback, before responding in the affirmative. It was new for the kids and new for mom, too.
I remember the first time I made an ashen cross on the foreheads of my children. It got my attention. It is a mark of mortality and penitence and there is an element of anguish as your brain connects the dots that your own children will one day die. It’s a painful sting, even though their lives aren’t in any particular danger in the moment. Just thinking about it is enough to worry a parent.
As I made the sign of the cross on the little boy’s forehead, I decided to add a phrase to the standard, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” As I often do, when giving a blessing to small children at communion, I tagged it with, “Remember that God created you and loves you very much.” I’m glad I did it too, because as little kids sometimes need, they stepped out of the service before communion to go be active little kids. For little ones who may not know exactly what is going on in a regular service, it seems the additional explanation around ashes was important.
It strikes me that the tag is also theologically and biblically sound, even if it wasn’t included in the Book of Common Prayer! When I saw the family after the service, I explained to the older child, the little girl, how the ashes and the words we use remind us that we are human and not like God. God creates us out of dirt so we can live on this earth. I also explained that in the story of Adam and Eve, it’s not just a story about messing up, it’s a reminder that even when we mess up, God loves us. As God sent Adam and Eve out of the garden, God also promised to watch over them. We may not think of it automatically when we consider the ashes of Ash Wednesday, but they do remind us that God made us and loves us. I hope we can learn to see them this way; it really puts the day and the season of Lent in a different perspective. So remember, God made you, too, and definitely loves you very much!
Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, [and your love for us], that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen. (adapted from the Ash Wednesday blessing of ashes)