I sat in the back, unsure what to do but following as best as I could. I was struck by the readings, the starkness and beauty of the liturgy, and a powerful sermon about the spiritual practice of Lent. I couldn't go forward for ashes -- that seemed too weird. But I was moved. In fact I was weeping. In all my years of going to church three times a week I had never felt the same impact of remembering Christ's death, my own immortality, and my need for repentance in my life.
Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen. (BCP 265)
It would be many, many years before I returned to the Episcopal Church, but that service remained with me. To this day, I love the Ash Wednesday service because I need to cry. I need to enter into a place remembering my own immortality and God's immeasurable love for me. I need to repent, to feel sorry for the things I have done wrong -- and frankly I really don't dwell on it during the year. Now I gladly wear the ashes on my head to know that I am sorry and God's forgiveness is very real.
There is a beautiful Mystery to Lent, and don't we need to invite others to that place of Mystery? It can be difficult to explain all this to children, yet children understand feeling bad about what they have done wrong and needing forgiveness. They can understand about temptation, about feeling alone, about having to do something hard, and the idea that God is always present with us no matter where we are. So don't ignore the hard stuff of Lent. Walk through it together with your families and those you work with.
For help, check out some of these articles:
Singing in the Dark: Why Children Should be Invited to Ash Wednesday
Greatest Hits - Lenten Resources from Building Faith
The Meaning of Lent - activities for families
And to start you on the journey, check out this video on Jesus' Temptation in the Wilderness - to start your Lenten Journey.