Encouragement From The Word

No Greater Love

For Christians in many traditions, this coming Wednesday marks a special day:  it will be Ash Wednesday.  And if you notice the calendar, it falls this year on February 14, which is also widely celebrated in western culture at Valentine’s Day.

When you were a kid, maybe your experience was a bit like mine.  My mother had me write out Valentines for each of my classmates.  After all, it was the right thing to do.  But did you feel, well, awkward about some of them?  Like they were going to be received as pregnant with meaning when they weren’t?

Love, as they say, is a many-splendoured thing.  And it is multi-faceted, like a beautiful diamond.  It can be possible to read too much – or too little – into an expression of human love.  A Valentine can be an expression of single-minded devotion, or it can be simply conforming to a cultural tradition.

Ash Wednesday inaugurates the season of Lent, a 40-day (note that Sundays are not included, since each Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection!) period of penitence and preparation for the death and resurrection of Jesus.  It is a whole season that prepares us to receive the greatest gift of love – the greatest Valentine – ever offered.  There is nothing ambiguous about this Valentine.  Jesus only has one meaning for it – selfless, life-giving love.

You don’t need to celebrate Lent to value what Jesus has done for us.  But many people find it a helpful time to awaken their awareness of what God is doing in their lives.

This coming Wednesday, whether you receive the imposition of ashes or not, understand that the greatest Valentine you will ever receive has paid the price for your sins, has paved the way for eternal life to be yours.

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command” (Jesus, John 15.14-15a, NLT).

Musings

It’s Ash Wednesday, but Sunday’s comin’!

Today is Ash Wednesday in the Christian calendar.  It’s a “moveable feast”, meaning its timing is always tied to Easter (which fluctuates by the moon – a story for another day!).  Ash Wednesday occurs 40 days before Easter – excluding Sundays – and marks the beginning of the Christian season of Lent.

In Presbyterian circles, not much has been made of Lent over the course of its history, for the very reason I mentioned above:  the season excludes Sundays.  Reformed Christians were never big on celebrating the Christian year anyway; talk to some older Scots, and you’ll find that in the extremes, even Christmas wasn’t recognized as such in the church.

The church year is a human construction, after all, but it can be helpful for many believers who like to have some structure to their personal and corporate spiritual life.  I celebrate Lent in my devotional life, but it doesn’t get much more than a wink and a nod from me on Sundays, because if you count the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, you’ll find that it only adds up to 40 if you don’t count the Sundays.  Each Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection – a little Easter!  So we don’t stop singing our hallelujahs and the like for the Sundays in Lent, because those Sundays are havens from the penitential nature of the season.

Lent has also become something I’m not sure it was ever intended to be by those who first cooked up the idea. Even people who haven’t much time for God will use Lent as a season for “giving something up” – like coffee or chocolate or something like that.  (Rumour has it that Tim Horton’s moved its iconic “Roll Up The Rim To Win” promotion to coincide with Lent because too many people were giving up coffee!)

To those who give up things for Lent I’m prone to ask, Is it drawing you closer to God?  Because if it is, it would make good sense to give it up permanently!

Lent can be a season that allows us to step back and consider our relationship with God, and what may be keeping us from growing in that relationship.  It can be a very meaningful observance.  But it should not involve somber, joyless Sunday worship gatherings.  We may be entering Lent, but the tomb is still empty!

By the way, if you’re looking for a nice meditation and an interesting family activity to begin the season of Lent, check out Ann Voskamp’s blog here.