This past weekend Rich and I spent with Oasis Vineyard in Hermiston, Oregon. We were invited to spend time first with the Leadership Team (LT). Friday evening we worked on clarifying Oasis’s vision and mission. We started with “Why does Oasis Vineyard exist?” The LT worked on understanding the story of their church, what God has done, is doing in the present, and what the Spirit might be inviting them toward in the future. After hours of listening to one another they were able to name in their words why they exist and what they are to be about. We fleshed out the “why” and the “what.” We know the “who” it is the current members of Oasis Vineyard, those in Hermiston and beyond who have yet to encounter the transforming love of God. Oasis is a church that exists for the sake of others.
“Even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
I love that the Lenten season has not been hijacked by the culture. We don’t see Ash Wednesday midnight sales, there are no Good Friday disguised as Black Friday specials advertising internet sales sites, there are no cute displays at the malls or in the midst of our town centers featuring young children in sack cloths and ashes. No, we get this season all to ourselves and for that I am grateful.
While it’s likely that the majority of Vineyard churches do not celebrate the Christian calendar, an increasing number of churches are beginning to see the wisdom of introducing aspects of the liturgical world into our communities. This is partly due to the fact that these spiritual formative practices provide significant help in our quest to keep the tension of mission and discipleship, rooted in our love for the kingdom of God.
Many folks may assume that Ash Wednesday is just a Catholic thing, it’s important to note that Ash Wednesday is celebrated by Lutherans and many other non-Catholics such as Methodists, Presbyterians and even some Baptists. In the Vineyard, one of the most well known Vineyard churches to participate in this Christian holiday is in Columbus, led by Rich Nathan (see this video as an example of how Rich Nathan leads this).
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, a season of prayer, fasting, and repentance. During Lent, followers of Jesus traditionally give up a luxury until Easter (e.g., desserts, social media, etc.). In the same way that Jesus prepared himself for the beginning of his public ministry, the Church has encouraged his followers to prepare theirselves for celebrating his resurrection by abstaining in order to thoroughly grasp the beauty of Christ’s victory over the grave.
So while the Bible does not demand churches to celebrate Ash Wednesday, if done well, I believe that Ash Wednesday can be a powerful space where the Spirit draws the attention of Jesus’s followers to see the sacrificial nature of his life and death and to fully celebrate and appreciate his powerful resurrection! As we intentionally create space for people to invite the Holy Spirit to shape and form us by the reality of the Cross, we are given an opportunity to join the historic and global church to say, “Come Holy Spirit... help us see the beauty of the Cross and to embrace the truth that though we have not luxuries, with Jesus we are satisfied and full.”
Blessings on you this Ash Wednesday, and may you experience the love of God,