I didn’t sing a verse of “Amazing Grace.” I missed the first reading, as I tried to remember the words I was supposed to say as I applied the Ashes. I said the response to the prayers but just kept praying that I wouldn’t make a mess of things, even the Gospel went over my head.
I think the woman who was leading the service was trying to reassure me as she spoke after the Gospel reading. She mentioned the phrases I was supposed to say, and then she kindly repeated herself – God is good! I tried to remember the words in order but then she said a mixed up version of the same twelve words. A gray panic settled over me.
She finished speaking and invited her helpers up to the altar. That was my cue. Inappropriately dressed in track pants, a “To Kill A King” concert sweatshirt, and a couple of vests, I strode up the main aisle.
The woman smiled at me gratefully, and said my lines to me as she smeared Ashes on my forehead, “Repent and sin no more, and follow the Gospel of the Lord.” At least, I think she said that.…
I took my place in front of the alter and couldn’t help but hear my three co-Ashers. Their words mixed with the words in my head and I couldn’t filter, and then my first person was in front of me.
“Repent. No sin more. Good Gospel of the Lord.” My nerves made one of my eyebrows raise, forced a corner of my mouth up.
I giggle when I am nervous. I swallowed the giggle but must have had a smart aleck-smirk as I said a variation of those lines, applying the Ashes.
They say that people’s faces change as they are about to receive Communion, that there is a calm and openness before receiving Christ’s body. Before receiving Ashes, I would say there is mostly just self-consciousness. Now, that could very well have been me projecting my terror onto the people who appeared before me, but the faces ranged from dignified to happy and my line seemed to have a slew of people who were trying not to laugh. One young man, however, was openly laughing when he stopped in front of me.
“Oh,” I started and looked into my crystal cup of ashes. I looked up and we both composed ourselves, ““Repent and sin no more….Follow the Good Gospel of the really Good Lord.”
I don’t expect to be asked to help again.