Other than Good Friday, Ash Wednesday is one of the services of the church year children are least likely to attend. This is unfortunate because there is much for children to learn from seeing their parents and the leaders of the congregation wearing ashen crosses, and even more from wearing ashes themselves:
- When children see all the adults they love and respect wearing ashes and they themselves are marked with ashes, they know they belong. They are one of God’s people. Other days they may know that with their minds, but on Ash Wednesday they know it in a powerful way with their eyes.
- Because we are all marked not with golden markers but with messy black ashes, children learn that all of us mess up and are forgiven. Knowing that the most loved and respected adult they know messes up just like they mess up is important life-shaping information.
- When we include children in these unique ritual moments they form a stronger connection with the community, with their tradition, and with their own faith for it is by hearing, touching, tasting, and experiencing these signs of grace and love that they are able to identify them as their own.
I encourage you to bring your kids to this year’s Ash Wednesday service. Let them see and hear and participate in the Church’s acknowledgement of the hard edges of reality—of our sin and its consequences. Though admitting “I am a sinner” is not an easy confession for children who are repeatedly told that they are “wonderful” or “if you try hard enough, you won’t sin,” it sets these words within the presence of every-one else making the same admission.
The Gospel calls us to open up our lives, to live honestly in light of what the world is and who God is—even if it means wrestling with truths about ourselves that we don’t like. Recognizing that we are all sinners who depend on God’s grace and forgiveness is an important first step in helping children (and all of us) grow not only in their understanding of what it means to become a Christian, but also why we celebrate Easter!