by Marge Gower
“Mommy, why do we have to go to church on Ash Wednesday?” six-year-old Melinda asked.
“Because it’s the first day of Lent,” her mother said. “We’re going to receive ashes together.”
Melinda didn’t want the priest smearing ashes on her forehead. She wasn’t allowed to wash them off. She walked up the church isle in the past few years, but wouldn’t take part in the ritual.
“Mommy, why do we get ashes?” Melinda asked.
“I explained to you that, unlike Jesus, we sin and need to be forgiven. The priest makes the sign of the cross on our foreheads with the ashes to show that we are ashamed and sorry. In Jesus’ time, wearing ashes were proof that people were sad for the bad things they had done. They wore sackcloth, too.”
“What’s sack cloth?” Melinda asked.
“Oh, Melinda, I’m glad you asked these questions before we got to church." Melinda’s mom taught faith formation classes, so she had answers. She smiled.
“Sackcloth was a scratchy cloth made from goat's or camel's hair. It was a sign of shame for their sins.”
"I don’t have to wear sackcloth, do I?” Melinda asked.
Her mother laughed. “No, just go put on your pink pants and a shirt. It’s cold and snowy tonight.”
Melinda giggled and ran for her room. She liked it when her mother explained things to her. She didn’t always understand, but it made her feel better.
When it was time to go up to the altar, Melinda gripped her mother’s hand. They made their way through the crowd and she listened as the priest said, “Repent and hear the good news,” and made the sign of the cross on her mother’s forehead.
Melinda gulped. It was her turn. She stepped back.
The priest leaned down and whispered, “First time?”
Melinda nodded. He smiled, repeated the prayer, and made the sign of the cross. Melinda’s heart jumped and she got goose bumps. She walked away knowing she would leave the ashes on her forehead. She wanted to let Jesus know that she was sorry.