Seven doesn't usually constitute a majority, but when seven of twenty-five people gathered around are 5 years old and younger, they quickly become a majority.
All twenty-five people "sat" in the first four pews on the east side of the church. It was 6:00pm, the second of our services for the day with several others attending the earlier option at 12:00pm. In this service, the adults sat mostly still while the kids were up and down a bit, curious why they were at church in the evening, happy to see their friends, wondering what was in the brown bowl that sat up front surrounded by candles. As Pastor, I stood behind the mystery bowl holding my Book of Worship to lead us in a service of the Imposition of Ashes.
As I said the words "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return," using the ashes to paint crosses on the foreheads of my church family, my heart slowly sank. The kids were joyfully whirring around us chattering a bit and then exiting to go find a place to play as the adults lingered for the confession using Psalm 51. And then everyone left the church having acknowledged our inevitable death... from 11 months old to a woman in her 80s. It wasn't until I was alone in the dark hallway about to set the alarm when my sinking heart finally hit rock bottom in my soul.
People die every single day. Countless unnamed people. Some surrounded by love and some alone with the exception of the unbidden presence of God. Even Jesus, at his death, died on a cross at the hands of people who did not understand the kind of kingdom that turns the world on its head-- that calls the powerful to lay down their power and the vulnerable to be lifted up. Its a frustrating concept, really, but as we have seen played out time and again, it is a matter of life and death.
Jesus was right when he called his disciples to join him in giving up the privilege of being served for serving others.
Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday are a strange combination of solemness at the heart of the hustle and bustle of a day of celebration and love, and now this day would have one more bedfellow. Another school shooting where a troubled young man took 17 lives.
As I stood in the hallway of my church, balancing all of the things in my hands and the images of my church people with ashy crosses on their foreheads with the images of children and staff escaping their school and loved ones hearing the news of their loved one's status, my heart hit the very bottom of this helpless numb slump.
And to my surprise it pushed open a well hidden trap door that reminded me: you are NOT helpless. The floor feels like it could fall out this far down in one's soul.
"Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return." One day, but not today.
Friend, no matter what you think the problem is, please commit to educate yourself, pray, advocate, and vote to address this complicated and dark web for we are all united in our weariness of these fatal outcomes.