…did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?
—Jan Richardson, “Blessing the Dust,” from Circle of Grace
Our pastors were away on a trip to the Holy Land. I was asked to assist the visiting pastor with the Ash Wednesday service. While I have held the Communion Cup and dispensed the bread many times, I had never dispensed ashes. I looked forward to it with a mix of joy and humility. The logistics are a bit more challenging than tearing bread from a loaf or holding a cup for the dipping.
As it turned out, there was no cause for concern. The visiting pastor was our District Superintendent…a pastor who has risen through the ranks of the church to the administrative position over all the churches in the district. In other words, this wasn’t his first rodeo. He was at ease and put the rest of us at ease. He showed me how he dipped his thumb into the wet sponge then into the bowl of ashes. With the dark residue on his thumb, he made the cross on the person’s forehead. The words to the Believers were simple: “Repent. And believe the Gospel.”
The service progressed…the songs sung, Scriptures read, meditation given. Then the invitation for the people to come forward to receive the ashes. They made two lines, one in front of him and his assistant (the sponge holder) and one in front of me and my helper. This was a profound experience for me because this congregation includes many who have taught me and many who are close friends. Doing what I was charged to do, I held my emotions in check…looking these beautiful people in the eyes and saying “Repent…and believe the Gospel.”
About halfway through the group, in front of me appeared Ava. Ava is four years old and she and her grandmother often share the table with me at Wednesday night supper. Ava is a doll baby. Big, beautiful eyes, long brown hair, lovely features. She stood there, looking up at me with those innocent wondering eyes, holding her mother’s hand. For a split second, I wondered if I should put ashes on such a small child. What is the doctrine of the church? This was not a moment of doctrinal purity. It was a moment of “Jesus loves you.” I dipped my thumb in the ashes, bent down and made the cross on that tiny forehead. I could not speak. Holding my breath, I marked her mother and her grandmother, and the line moved on.
Later, I took the evening’s program and across the bottom wrote a note to Ava. I simply wanted to confirm what I know she hears from her pre-school teachers and her grandmother…”Jesus loves you.” I gave the note to her grandmother. Maybe someday, when Ava is an adult and goes through her grandmother’s things, she will find that note and have some memory of the night she got her ashes from Miss Sue at church.
For me, it was the highlight of the evening…a true Faith Breeze moment when the veil between heaven and earth was very thin. Who knows what the Holy One will do with the dust that makes up a little girl named Ava.
Cradle and Cross: Reflections on Christmas and Easter. Available on Amazon.com.