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A Little Child Shall Lead Them

By Claire Alexander

The shuffling children settled themselves on the chilly sanctuary floor for the story. A retired Episcopal minister, with overseas experience, carefully held the handrail. She balanced her show-and-tell bag, as someone lifted her chair down the three steps from the choir. Her goal was to penetrate these young minds, on this snowy, February morning.

The solemn, forty days of Lent were approaching, when children could learn ways to help others. And in her mind, the coming Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, became the key to a self-less commitment. Unexpectedly, out of the bag came a Halloween mask.

“When do you wear a mask?” she asked.

After due response, she went on, “Why?”

“So no one knows who you are,” said a little boy.

“Yes,” she replied, and, without discussing reasons for disguises, went on to explain that some places celebrated Mardi Gras and Carnival using masks. During the festivities, all the rich foods like meat, butter, eggs, and sugar were eaten up.

Everyone had a party on “Shrove Tuesday” – the old name that meant it was time the next day to say you were sorry for your sins, and begin a self-disciplined fast, and simpler food. Lent gave people time to get their hearts ready to observe Holy Week: Palm Sunday; Good Friday, when Jesus died; and the glorious resurrection of Easter Sunday.

“Here, at church,” she said, “next Shrove Tuesday night, we are going to have a pancake supper, instead of Mardi Gras. And what comes after that?”

A clear little voice resonated across the ceiling vault, “You hafta wash the dishes!”

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