Ash Wednesday is a beautiful day in the church calendar, but it carries with it heavy themes of weakness, mortality, and sin. For that reason, it can be a challenge to observe Ash Wednesday with children. On one hand, we don’t want to completely shelter children from themes of weakness and mortality, on the other hand, a liturgy which speaks of our “wretchedness” (Collect for Ash Wednesday) can be counter productive to the empowering of young children. This is especially true in Christian traditions which emphasize original sin. But I believe we are born into the world good and beautiful. I believe we first need to teach our children that their creation and existence is a gift to the world. I believe we can teach young children the importance of integrity, honesty, and saying you’re sorry without shaming them.
For that reason, this year I riffed off the traditional phrase intended to remind us of our mortality and sinfulness “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” to preach the God-given beauty in each one of us.
Here’s my children’s sermon from Ash Wednesday:
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dust. Today we’re talking about dust.
You know what dust is right? Dust is the collection of fine particles that fill the air and settle on things like tables and ceiling fans in our homes. Dust.
Well, today I have four facts to share with you about dust.
Fact #1: Did you know that some of the dust in your home actually comes from Africa?
That’s right, it came all the way from Africa. That’s because often in the Saharan Desert they have sand storms that blow sand high into the sky and it eventually makes its way all the way to your home where it gets into the house on your clothes and your pets and through your open windows. So there’s a little bit of Africa right beside you all the time.
Fact #2: Dust is what makes sunrises and sunsets so beautiful.
When the dust fills the air and the light touches it in just the right way you get beautiful shades of pink and orange and red. And it’s all because of dust.
Fact #3: Scientists estimate that the average household produces 40 pounds of dust a year. That’s the weight of a kindergartner. So even when you clean up the dust from your entertainment center and ceiling fans, there will always be more dust to clean up.
Fact #4: Dust is actually made up of a lot of different things. It’s made of dirt/ sand, pollen, clothing fibers, dead bugs, and dead bug poop! But get this, 20%-50% of dust in your home is made up of dead skin cells. That means that when little bits of skin shed from your body, it goes into the air and becomes dust. Dust, then, is made of you. It’s made of your skin and hair.
But did you know that dust isn’t just made of you, you are made of dust?
The Bible says in the book of Genesis that God formed humans from the dust of the ground and breathed into their nostrils the breath of life and they became living beings.
It all started with dust.
Today is Ash Wednesday, which is the first day of the season of Lent. And in the season of Lent we remember that God made us from the dust of the ground.
And to help us remember, we put a little bit of dust on our foreheads. (Don’t worry though, our dust is made of the ashes of burnt palm leaves, not dead bugs).
And with the dust on our heads in the shape of the cross,
We remember that we are connected to the earth.
We remember that we are connected to each other.
We remember that we are connected to God.
We remember that we are all made of dust.
It’s pretty cool when you think about it. We are made of the same stuff that travels around the world all the way from Africa. We are made of the same stuff that makes the sunrises and sunsets beautiful. We are made of the same stuff that God picked up in God’s hands to make people. We are dust! And dust is so cool.
So today, on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, remember that you are dust, and dust is beautiful.