Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down

Circles of children spinning around. Holding hands, puling each other down, bearing each other up. Laughs and giggles, faster and faster. Bounce, higher, tumble. They all fall down.

Ring around the Rosie is one of our beloved childhood songs. Generations have chanted this simple rhyme. We have spun together, we have fallen together, and we have stood up to play just one more time. 

But there is a much darker aspect surrounding these happy-sounding words. It is rumored they describe the great plagues of history. Rosy rashes, posies to keep the stench of death away, ashes from the burnt plague victims, finally all fall dead. Although folklorists deny any evidence of these historical connections, our happy and carefree children will one day hear this popular nursery rhyme’s tale of death. Suddenly, our bright-eyed babes will be faced with their own terrifying memory of dancing to such a sad story. They will remember how boldly they laughed when they fell down dead. They will realize the gravity of their song and cry out, “But I didn’t even know!”

Accurate or not, important or trivial, we all discover evil dark shadows where we least expect them. In a song, in a word, in an action, in a relationship, in the best intentions from our heart, a sickening story seems to find its way to the surface. But what if we didn’t know it was there? It’s not our fault, right? We were just innocent kids minding our own wholesome business when a song of death escaped from our lips.

Even if we didn’t know it before, we have big problems. Even when we are the best version of ourselves, we still remember those times when we hurt others and failed to help them. Even when we stay on the right track to health and life and prosperity, death and failure still nip at our heels with every step. Even when we think we have it all figured out, God speaks His Holy Word and teaches us another way we continue to disappoint Him.

Suddenly, we learn that we were never innocent. We were conceived in a world groaning with death. We were birthed into a pool of wickedness. Whether we knew it or not, we are declared guilty before the Almighty Holy God.

Ashes, Ashes, we all fall down.

The song of death we sang carelessly as a child, the Creator of the Heavens and Earth now sings to us.

For you are dust, and to dust you shall return. -Genesis 3:19

Today you hear your dark story of death. Unexpectedly, your ears may understand the severity of your choices. Sadly, your eyes may see the consequences of a creation rotting with decay. Receive the dusty symbol of judgment ashes both upon your forehead and upon your heart. You are dust; you are dead.

Jesus Christ received this judgment in full measure, not simply a dirty mark of shame. Rather, He received your lonely, bloody cross and surrendered His life for yours. The unnamed mistakes that belong to you died with Christ. The unintentional corruption you still love, died with Christ. The sinner that hides deep inside you died with Christ.

And just like our simple game of Ring around the Rosie, on account of Christ, we are raised back up. Laughing and giggling, alive and free, we can spin around again. The ashes that once infected our hearts have been washed clean. There is no more dark story of death for us.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 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.” -Romans 6:1-4

But we know how this story goes. Round and round, spinning and pulling, stumbling and falling, we will find ourselves laid out on the cold dusty ground, again and again. What shall we say, then? Are we just trapped, continuing in this sick game of sin, so that we can recognize the gracious hand of God raises us? Do we just spin through another Lent season, Ash Wednesday, saying sorry, and feebly grasping the need for a Savior? Ashes, ashes. We keep falling down.

But St. Paul tells us another story. Our childhood game is over. Do we just spin around, and go through the motions, dead and alive, yesterday and today and tomorrow? By no means! Christ Jesus has ended this song. His resurrection has dissolved the ashes. We are buried deep under the dust that annoys us, deep below the shame that smudges our foreheads, deep beyond the groaning creation that traps our attention. Just as Christ was raised from the dead, we are, right now, raised up from the ashes, never to fall again.