I started today a bit disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to attend Ash Wednesday services at our church. I had a plane to catch, so it just wasn’t possible.
As for many Christians, Ash Wednesday serves as a definitive and dramatic crossover into the contemplative season of Lent. The hour-long service at our church bathes me in an almost magical blend of prayer, music and liturgy that sends me back out into the world calm and unhurried and inspired for the next 40 days.
Before heading to the airport this morning, I went online and tried to find an Ash Wednesday service—of any denomination—in my destination city. As best I could see, none of the churches in the area had services posted. I had no time to call any of them, so I acknowledged sadly that I’d have to sit it out this year.
Just after clearing security at National Airport’s Delta terminal at 10:55 a.m., an announcement sounded over the intercom that there would be an Ash Wednesday service in the airport chapel beginning at 11:00.
I didn’t have to board my flight until 11:25, so I exited the secure area and hightailed it to the chapel, tucked behind Dunkin’ Donuts.
I was the second worshiper to arrive and the only passenger; the rest of the 14-member congregation were airport employees and crew members.
Granted, it wasn’t the hour at St. Alban’s I had hoped for. Still, we recited Psalm 51, read two verses from Hebrews, heard a bit of Mark’s Gospel and sang along to a boom box blasting out “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.” A swift imposition of ashes, and we were out in under 15 minutes. I went back through security, where the TSA agent spotted my ashes, scanned my ID and remarked how fitting that my name is Monica Bernadette. I was at the gate five minutes before boarding.
No, it wasn’t the hour of contemplative prayer and soothing Taizé music I might have enjoyed at my home church. But considering I had already written it off, the Ash-n-Dash was an unexpected blessing.