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).