Looking Back at Ash Wednesday

So last night, we held an Ash Wednesday service for children in our chapel (where we usually hold Children's Church) concurrent with the service in "big church" for adults. I'm always amazed at what happens at Children's Church or its Ash Wednesday equivalent. I remember last year's service, which started out in holy silence and ended in complete pandemonium. This year, I was more prepared. I thought.

Our children's services are, of course, somewhat interactive. It's an art. Yes, we ask and answer questions and express thoughts. No, the stuffed rabbit does not receive communion but a blessing is cool.

This year one of the questions was, what about babies? Do we put ashes on them, too?

Which reminded me of the first time I imposed ashes, as a seminarian. Sure enough, someone came to the altar rail with an adorable six month old baby. OMG, I thought. I'm supposed to put ashes on this sweet face and remind her mother that to dust she will return?

But I did. And I said last night, yes, even babies get ashes on Ash Wednesday. We might not like to think about death and mortality at any age, but we are not immortal or superheroes, and we all do things we wish we hadn't done or know we shouldn't have done, and even if the babies themselves can't understand about being sorry and needing forgiveness in the way that older children and adults do, babies do know what love is about and how much we all need love. And when we see babies with ashes on their faces, we understand just how precious life is to all of us.

The children came up one by one to kneel on our prie dieu to receive their ashes. For a group that usually acts like the dance crew on Laugh In or In Living Color, I was struck by how very quiet and still they became when they come up for their ashes - and indeed while others were receiving their ashes. This is not the usual M.O. for this group. But clearly they were serious about the moment. Some of them cast sly looks at their siblings, others closed their eyes, some looked at me; many of them said amen after the imposition. But during the whole time during which all 30 of them came forward for they ashes, the room was totally quiet.

I have no idea what was going on in their minds. But I do know what was going on in mine. I was grateful for the trust that these children had that what they were doing was special but also natural and right. This was not, to borrow from the Passover and from our Easter Vigil, a night like any other night. It was special. It was holy. It was for them individually and also for all of us as a group.

And so now, we follow the transfigured Christ into the wilderness. Who knows what we will find there and what will find us? But I am reminded again of Jesus' words. Receive the kingdom like a child.