Meeting Jesus in the Ashes

Image by Grzegorz Krupa from Pixabay

Ashes, Ashes

I walked away from Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christianity because of Ash Wednesday. Intiutively I knew that I needed Ash Wednesday, and my soul craved the ashes I’d never even considered before. In many ways I was looking for peace and atonement and I figured that ashes was a good place to start. I needed some space to repent and turn to the Lord, and Ash Wednesday seemed like a good gateway to do so. I was well aware that I had sinned, after all, I’d prayed thousands of “sinner’s prayers” in my time, but Jesus didn’t seem to hear those incantations. Except that I think he did, because all those years later, I would find him.

Image by Grzegorz Krupa from Pixabay

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened (King James Version, which I normally don’t use, but I had these verses memorized in the KJV and that’s the language I learned them with). I didn’t recognize that I was seeking Jesus until I found him. All I knew was that I was a person who had done a lot of evil things and I needed atonement.

In a desperate effort to find out if communion was what I needed in order to find Jesus, I bought a goblet and a loaf of bread, and attempted to make my own communion at home, but as I served myself some good wine and a chunk of bread, I knew in my heart that it was fake. I meant well, but it’s not something I recommend doing, it’s not communion and it’s not Jesus, and my soul knew I was trying to find Jesus. It’s not that Jesus was lost, he wasn’t, but I sure was.

The Church with the Funny Name

Ionce told (screamed at) an Episcopal priest to fuck off and mind his own fucking business. The poor guy had shown up in the wrong place at the wrong time and I was having difficulties with my ex-husband. I knew he was a priest, after all, he had walked across the street from his church, and he just happened to be wearing a clergy collar. Those were my two biggest clues. It wasn’t a Halloween costume, this bloke really was a priest. I thought his church had a really funny name: Episcopal. What the heck is an Episcopal, I wondered (I’m well aware that Episcopalian is the correct word in context, but I didn’t know that then). Now, understand that if I had known that it was the Church of England under a different name, I’d at least have had a reference point.

Image by Himsan from Pixabay

It was a good six months later that I walked into the same Episcopal Church and met the same priest again. I had not thought much about that church again after cursing out the priest. Normally what I would have done was call the church and apologize, but I was so embarrased that I did not do that. I did, however, all those months later, email the priest and give him a heads up about who I was, so that it would not be awkward for him if he happened to recognize me when I got there.

Although I was obviously out of place, a woman turned to me, acknowledged me, and helped me navigate the service. That woman was also one of my confirmation sponsors. When it came time for communion, I hesitated, because I wasn’t sure if I should or not, because I was not one of them. These people were different to me. They intimidated me. An usher saw me stand up, walk two steps, and nervously sit back down in the pew. He came up to me and said it seems like you want to go take communion, and you are welcome at the altar, how about you come with me? I’ll show you what to do. I nervously followed him, my desire for the Eucharist stronger than my desire to not feel awkward and out of place.

He knelt at the altar, and so I knelt beside him. He put cupped his hands, the right on top of the left, and put them forward to receive the bread, and so I did the same. The body of Christ, the bread of heaven, the priest said, as he looked into my eyes and put the bread into my hands. The usher put the bread into his mouth immediately, and so I put the bread in my mouth and, although I was in church, a sacred space, a jolt went through me and I said oh shit, I just ate Jesus.

A woman leaned over in front of me to guide a chalice to my lips, and I took a sip of wine. I had the same reaction I just drank the blood of Jesus Christ himself! This experience totally changed my life. I had found Jesus. I walked back to my seat lost in thought, and I don’t remember the rest of the service at all. I couldn’t get over the fact that I had consumed Jesus at the altar of the Church with the Funny Name. I had found Jesus. He was hanging out with the Episcopalians.

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MaryClare StFrancis, M.A.

MaryClare StFrancis, M.A.

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She/her. I write memoirs, feature articles, essays, poetry, and more.