What happens when two important events fall on the same day? Do they complement each other like peanut butter and chocolate or do they clash like stripes and polka dots? The intertwining of the calendar occurs this year as the beginning of Lent falls on February 14th. If only February 14th would have fallen one day earlier. The sweetness of Valentine candy and the celebration of romantic love could have easily complemented the carnival atmosphere and feasting of Mardi Gras. Alas, the calendar misses this complimentary combination by a day. So what occasion is it that begins our annual Lenten journey to Easter? The solemn ritual of the Ash Wednesday liturgy and the words “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” These words form a stark contrast to the invitation to be my Valentine!

Is it possible to bring these two unlikely partners into a complimentary union? Perhaps the pairing may not be as incongruent as we may initially conclude. Church tradition holds that St. Valentine actually was an early Christian martyr who lost his life in defense of his belief in Jesus Christ. With the mystery and grace of romantic love also come the importance of sacrifice and commitment to the needs of others, particularly those for whom we have a romantic attachment. It is not too far afield to remember Christ’s passionate, sacrificial love for us at this time.

Ash Wednesday reminds us of our sin and the need for forgiveness. Ash Wednesday points us again to the cross as the sign of the depth of God’s love for us. If ever we wanted a Valentine message that celebrates a love that lasts, the message of love that Jesus sends us from the cross is it. It is good for us to enjoy the moment and savor the blessings that our bodies can be, but it is also good to remember that long after our physical being has been reduced to dust and ash, the passionate spirit of our loving God will be providing something even greater for our enjoyment. Fasting and feasting each have their place in our lives. Sometimes they are experienced simultaneously and in tension with one another. The combination of Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day is a reminder of this experience. With God at the center of our lives, the right balance can be found. With this firm foundation in faith we are also reminded that only God’s love can turn the deep dark fast of death into the eternal feast of Easter!

 

– Pastor John Holliday