This is the first of a series of posts with reflective activities for Lent and Easter. Use them in your home, church or outside-church ministry. This could be the ultimate ‘messy’ of Messy Church!
“Remember that we are dust”
Today’s activity is suitable for adult, youth, schools, and children right down to toddlers. Give it a go! It’s probably easier than you think (but just as messy).
If (like me) you are not from a church that does not do ‘Imposition of the Ashes’ on the first day of Lent, you might like to explore this powerful and beautiful tradition. It is a potent experience for adults and children alike, and may people wear their ashes throughout the day.
The practice of marking a cross of ashes on the forehead links back to the Old Testament, where ashes were used as a sign of penitence or mourning. Many Protestants, as well as Catholic and Orthodox Christians, use ‘ashing’ as a reminder and admission of our human frailty, as we “remember that we are dust”.
To help us think about how fragile and transitory is a human life compared to God’s eternal and never-ending nature, we can make ‘dust’.
You will need:
- Palm crosses (use last year’s, or buy new ones and dry them in an oven beforehand) – click here for link on Amazon
paper crosses – see here for how to make them
paper and pens for drawing palm leaves
- Two cake tins
- Oven gloves
Alternatively, you can just buy ready-burned ash, though it’s much more fun to make your own – click here for a link on Amazon
- Small plates or saucers
- Olive oil
- Wet wipes!
If you don’t have palm crosses, paper palm crosses work just as well, or you could ask children to draw pictures of palm leaves, then burn the pictures. Crosses make a very small amount of ash, but you only need a small amount for ‘ashing’.
Pile the crosses in one cake tin and set light to them – In A Place With No Smoke Detectors! Cover with the second cake tin if you are concerned about flames. When the fire has gone out, remove the cover and power the ashes.
You can do this with the sieve, or by using two nested teaspoons. Let each person take a small scoop of ashes and place another spoon on top to grind them to power. Do this over a small plate.
When each person has a tiny pile of ashes, add a drop of oil and mix them to a thin paste. Clear away all the mess and get ready to be still.
Sit in a circle with your ashes while you listen to the passage below, and sit in silence for a minute or so. Next, each person should dip the tip of one finger in the ash mix and draw a cross on the forehead of the person on their left, saying, “Remember that we are dust.”
Repeat this around the circle, then go out, wearing your cross in the world.
Psalm 103:14-17 New International Version (NIV)
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlasting
the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children—
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.