The lectionary readings are the same for every Ash Wednesday in the Revised Common Lectionary. So much is the same each year. But also each year has a new twist. For example, this year Ash Wednesday is the day before Valentine’s Day. Rather than reprint all the material in each year’s post, I’m giving you two links with a list of what you’ll find at each of them. Then, I’ll add a couple of new ideas for this year.
Go to Ash Wednesday - Year A for
An article about how children understand the imposition of ashes
Keeping Ash Wednesday as the beginning of the new season of Lent
A trumpet alarm call to worship based on Joel
Suggestions for explaining repentance to children
Ideas about introducing fasting (setting aside food and other stuff)
Go to Ash Wednesday - Year B for
Why we use ashes to symbolize our sin
A responsive reading using the Lord’s Prayer
A short prayer to say when washing ashes from your face
Go to Bread not Stones: Remember You Are Dust to read an essay about how important Ash Wednesday can be to children. Don't miss Rebecca's idea in the comments about how to encourage children to come to the service.
U And being an author I do not pass up the opportunity to remind you that Sharing the Easter Faith with Children is an entire book dedicated to helping children claim and be claimed by Easter faith and worship. It includes two detailed Ash Wednesday worship plans, one based on the story Peter who should probably be the patron saint of Ash Wednesday, and one designed to follow a pancake supper.
An Idea Especially for 2013
U This year Ash Wednesday falls on the day before Valentine’s Day. (The next time it falls close is in 2018 when it falls on Valentine’s Day.) That makes it an opportunity to explore the fact that loving is more than cards, candy, and flowers. Those are all nice. But loving means with sticking with each other – even when it not easy or pleasant. The Year C lectionary texts for the Sundays of Lent explore such sacrificial love. So, love could become a Lenten theme for the year. (Go to Year C - Observing Lent and Celebrating in 2013 for the outline of the season long theme.) Or, it could be simply a theme for Ash Wednesday that is linked to Valentine’s Day.
U It would be wonderful if there were a universally recognized story in which St. Valentine displays this love, but there is not. There are three martyrs named Valentine, none with widely accepted stories. One MIGHT have married Christians during a time when that was illegal. Another MIGHT have been either a prisoner who was well cared for by a jailer or a jailer who cared well for his prisoners. No one is sure. So, there is no story to read – which is probably fine on Ash Wednesday. Instead,….
U Feature large red valentine hearts with a black cross drawn on each one. While it would be cool to draw crosses on the hearts with the Ash Wednesday ashes, it is easier, less messy, and lasts longer to draw the crosses with black crayon.
Talk it through: Start with a large red paper heart. Say that the baby Jesus was like God’s valentine telling us that God loves us. God became one of us and lived among us as a baby who grew into a man who talked about God’s love and really loved every person he met. One would think everyone would like Jesus. But, they did not. Jesus’ love made them feel like they should be more loving than they wanted to be. Jesus talked about forgiving love and loving EVERYONE. Enough people got angry enough that they killed Jesus. The totally amazing thing is that Jesus did not get angry. Jesus FORGAVE them. He still loved them. After he rose and was no longer dead, Jesus still loved them and reached out to them. Draw a large black cross on the red heart and say THAT is love.
Another way to talk it through: Start with the red paper heart. Talk about what we mean when we say “I love you.” Include such meanings as “I think you are pretty/handsome/cool/neat,” “I want to be your friend,” “I am glad I know you,” “I am glad you are my teacher/coach/sister…. Note that it feels great to get and give valentines. Then, talk about what happens as you try to hang on to that valentine love day after day. Imagine what it would take to hold on to that heart if the person you gave it to got sick or broke a bone and needed LOTS of help. Ponder what it takes to hold on to the heart when the person you share it with says or does something mean or hurts your feelings. Finally, draw a large black cross on the heart. Note that real love is not easy. Introduce as a season in which we try to love better. Point to some opportunities for families to work on loving and ways your congregation will explore loving in worship during Lent.
Give children (or all worshipers) a valentine heart with a cross drawn on it to display in their home during Lent to remind them to love others even when it is not easy. You might give the hearts out with the crosses already drawn on them or give out the hearts as you begin the conversation, then invite worshipers to draw a cross on their heart as a way of committing themselves to work on loving during Lent. (Black crayons can be passed around to do this.)