Ash-proof Kids

By Cindy Koch

It’s become our ritual every Sunday morning. Twenty little feet scurry into a tiny little classroom and shuffle back and forth between the tiny blue chairs. Twenty little hands fidget and pull at their own buttoned up collars and their sparkly dress skirts. Twenty little eyes bounce around from a colorful bulletin board to their three-coin offering to their friend’s underground toy snuck in by hidden pocket. Twenty little ears hear music and laughter and a jumble of settling sounds as I walk up in front.

One voice says “In the name of…”

“The father, and the son, and the holy spirit,” one unified voice responds.

Milliseconds ago, each and every sense flailed around our Sunday school classroom in disarray. But here, at the name of God, every mouth sand together as one. Forehead, locket, shoulder, pocket. All of these tiny people calmly made the sign of the cross together as one.

“Why do we make the sign of the cross?”

And the game begins. Ten little hands shoot up in the air instantly. Ten excited little faces try to keep their brilliant answer from escaping their lips. Ten little children stretch and squeal to be the first to be called on. Ten little Christians can’t wait to tell me why they make the sign of the cross upon their own flesh.

“Jesus died on the cross!”

 “This body is going to a new earth!”

“God’s name is my name!”

“Pastor marked my forehead when I was a baby!”

“I’m baptized!”

But everyone is just waiting for it. The answer that makes everyone groan. Even the little five-year-old can’t contain herself in anticipation for the response that will halt the rapid-fire momentum of our question-answer session.

“Ash Wednesday!”

Ten little giggles. Now, the first time that answer surfaced from the thoughts and reflections of ten kids who were age ten and under, I was impressed. Wow, I pondered for a moment too long, how do we get from the sign of the cross a young child makes over herself at the beginning of Sunday School all the way to back Ash Wednesday?

Challenge accepted.

What does that mean that Pastor puts an ashy cross on the forehead of those who darken the door of a worship service on Ash Wednesday? Adult and child alike, a unified congregation is marked with black smears of dirt entering into a season of sadness and reflection. Back in the Garden of Eden, after man and woman were found guilty of disobeying God, there were consequences for their doubt. Pain, toil, but climactically death. “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19). The curse of death was laid upon man and woman. They would surely die for their disobedience. Dust, ash, dirt, this is the sign and signal that the consequence still belongs to sinners. Pastor reminds each of us on Ash Wednesday that we are dust – because of sin we will die – and to dust we shall return.

A little dark for kindergarten through fifth graders, right? But maybe not. There they sit with ten little smiles on their faces. Because even they know there is so much more to say about this little black cross that haunts their heads.

What does that little black cross on your forehead remind you of? Yes, death. But Pastor did this very same thing to you on another day. When the name of God was washed over your head, you were buried and raised with Christ. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:3-4). And so the cross of dust and ashes is washed away. The cross of death is replaced with a new cross of life. On account of the death and resurrection of Jesus, death has no power over you.

Ten little hearts swell with hope. Ten little Christians remember their baptism. One little church confesses Christ to the end.

That’s why we make the sign of the cross.