On the mind of the Rev. Adrian Dannhauser

Feb 8, 2024

“Lenten lingerie.” That’s what Deacon Denise called the purple veil covering the cross on the high altar. It was her first Ash Wednesday at Incarnation – the day when we cover all the crosses with purple veils for the season of Lent. Normally these veils are opaque, or close to it. The veils obscure from our vision the beautiful and holy images that inform our worship life, and in so doing, remind us that our sinful nature has obscured our vision of God’s truth.

Except at Incarnation, that is, where our veils are as sheer as you can get. Lenten lingerie is an apt description. Not to mention a hilarious one. Thank you, Deacon Denise!

The fact that our Lenten lingerie is coming out on Valentine’s Day this year seems rather fitting. But seriously, jokes about intimate apparel aside, there’s something pretty special about the overlap of Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day.

When these two days overlapped in 2018 – remember that? – a parishioner brought her two-year-old son to the evening service, which includes the imposition of ashes as well as Holy Communion. He had been baptized as an infant, but she didn’t want him to receive Communion until he was old enough to understand it.

This is a practice common in the Catholic Church. You make your first Communion in the second grade, or at 7 years old, which is considered the age of reason. In the Episcopal Church, you can have Communion as soon as you’re baptized.

So, it’s Ash Wednesday 2018, and this parishioner is at the Communion rail with her son. Normally I would give him a blessing, but this time she says, “Hit him.” As in, “Hit him with a Communion wafer.”

I was surprised and delighted by this development. This cause for rejoicing. “Is she just caught up in the moment?” I thought. I knew Ash Wednesday was her favorite holiday. And since it was Valentine’s Day that year, maybe she was really feeling the love.

In fact, I think that’s precisely it. She WAS feeling the love – God’s love – and she wanted her son to receive the fullness of that love made manifest in the Eucharist. Her heart was exploding with love.

On one hand, this might seem a little odd because Ash Wednesday is about humility and penitence. The liturgy describes the whole lot of us as “wretched.” Yet, it’s only by embracing our finitude that we can take in God’s mercy and grace. For our sinfulness, our brokenness, and our mortality will always be met with the love of God. We need not ever think of our sin apart from God’s love and forgiveness. That is the essence of the Good News.

I hope you can join us in worship on Ash Wednesday. Or maybe you’ll get ashes at another church. Wherever you find yourself, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 265). And when you receive an ashen cross in that moment of tender and solemn ritual, know that you are also receiving God’s love, just as you do at the Communion rail.

God, hit us with your love. On Ash Wednesday, and always. Amen.