Easter is early this year, and coincidentally Ash Wednesday is too. (Funny how that happens!) It falls on February 14th this year, which is, of course Valentine’s Day—not that that celebration has any particularly important meaning to me this year, other than to be excited for couples wishing each other well on Facebook.
It may not be quite as exciting, though, for church leaders as you think about whether to have an Ash Wednesday service that night when many of our folks might prefer to be anywhere else than marking the beginning of Lent with its focus on our sin and need for forgiveness. The latter sure seems like a downer compared to LOVE LOVE LOVE.
I wonder, though, if Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day might fit together better than we think. After all, St. Valentine (the person, not the celebration) was a Roman priest and physician who died during the persecution of Christians around 270 AD. Legend has it that he signed a letter to his jailer’s daughter, “from your Valentine.”
Clearly, though, this martyr’s love extended far beyond a human valentine. He loved Jesus Christ enough to continue to profess his faith, despite knowing the cost of making this public in these violent times. St. Valentine’s love was not simply romantic; it was self-giving and faithful. In this way, Valentine’s love was like the love of Jesus, who made his love for the world public in violent times, too.
The cost of Jesus’ public love was the cross, where he destroyed the power of sin and death…which brings us back around to Ash Wednesday. When we are at our best, we acknowledge the power of sin while also acceding to the reality of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.
Maybe Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day have more in common than we think.
Your partner in ministry,
Rev. Charles B Hardwick, PhD