Soooooo, Happy Valentine’s Day! I would say happy Ash Wednesday also, but that’s inappropriate. There is no such thing as Happy Ash Wednesday, its not a day of happiness, its a day of introspection, a day to begin the season of Lent, a day to be reminded of our need to be repentant.

Ok, that’s quite a beginning, but I wanted to draw a distinction between the two events. Its not often we find Valentine’s Day falling on Ash Wednesday. Valentine’s Day is a celebration that has become commercialized and centered around the romantic love between two people. It can be sweet and syrupy at times, but it brings front and center the idea of celebrating love. We demonstrate the love we feel by sending flowers, candy, cards, and include dates and dinners. All in all, it has become a very celebrated day.

Here’s the thing about Valentine’s Day, its beginnings aren’t all hearts, and roses, and chocolates. Its the Feast of Saint Valentine. Valentine was imprisoned and martyred in Rome for ministering to Christians who were being persecuted. The tradition says Valentine restored the sight to the daughter of his jailer. He is said to have performed weddings for Christian soldiers forbidden to marry by the emperor.

Not such a cute and cuddly story to tell your special Valentine. The day has been co-opted by the greeting card companies, the candy companies, the florists, the restauranteurs, and has become a booming success. It kind of loses its relevance as a day to remember a saint of the church who gave his life for the sake of others.

Maybe it can be redeemed though. Maybe if in our desire to express our love for another, we remind ourselves asking someone to be your Valentine is a way of saying how deep your love really is for them. Valentine’s love for others led him to a martyr’s death, is our love that deep for others?

Ash Wednesday isn’t a day of celebration at all, its a day of marking the beginning of a journey that will eventually lead us to the cross. This is the day we remind ourselves of our mortality, when we are born we are headed immediately on a journey to our physical death. There is no way around it. We acknowledge our finite physical existence in the words, “from dust you came, to dust you shall return.” The time between from dust to dust, we are growing in our spiritual lives. Its the spiritual that is eternal, so we don’t place too much emphasis on the physical and get wrapped up in what it offers temporarily. We are meant to learn and grow while we are here, and then we are ready for the eternal life we have been offered.

In a sense, maybe its fortuitous for Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day to converge on the same day. Valentine’s Day is a day to be reminded of love, deep love. Ash Wednesday is a day to be reminded of where we come from, where we are headed, and what through love we have been given. God’s love through Jesus is what secures our place in eternity. Valentine’s love for others reiterated what the power of love can do.

You and I are living examples of what love can do in this temporary life. We are being urged to let love be our guiding principle this Valentine’s Day, and to be what undergirds our beginning of the journey of Lent.

May the God of love bless all our Valentine’s Day greetings, and may it comfort and prepare our hearts and minds as we begin our Lenten journey with the mark of ashes.

Your companion on the Way,

Pastor Tom

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