Every year as a church we observe Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday gets its roots from early Christian traditions dating back to the 11th century. Growing up in a black church, a holiness Pentecostal church, we were not only told that observing Ash Wednesday was wrong, but it was in the same category as being in a cult.
The first Ash Wednesday service I attended was at Vineyard Columbus in 2011. I went up for prayer but refused to let anyone put ashes on me. I loved our church but thought, “this is crazy!” I was for sure uncomfortable. I didn’t know that Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, which is a 40-day season leading us to Easter Sunday. I didn’t know this was a season of fasting and prayer, a time of being intentional about creating space for engaging with God and disengaging with things that might distract from connecting with God. All I knew was that this felt wrong based on what I was taught.
Later during the Lenten season, I had my first encounter with observing “stations of the cross.” This is a practice symbolizing the path of suffering that Jesus walked on His way to the cross. These stations are intended to help Christians take a spiritual pilgrimage through contemplation. There are different objects to see, hear, touch, and smell. As I stopped at one station and saw the image of Christ, buckling under the weight of a heavy cross, I cried. This encounter was what made me give Ash Wednesday another try the following year.
What became real for me was realizing that it is a good thing to engage in a practice that will help me connect with God, even if it seems strange at first. Much like when we lift our hands in worship as an outward expression or when we’re submerged under water during baptism symbolizing the old life dying to a new and resurrected life, the practice of being prayed for and receiving the ashes is a different way of experiencing God. It helps us to remember that we are from dust and to dust we will return, that we are sinners and in need of the blood of Jesus to wash us clean.
Vineyard Columbus is holding Ash Wednesday services at all campuses on Wednesday, February 14 at 7pm. I hope my story encourages you to step into this practice that has helped me and so many others connect to God in a deeply meaningful way.