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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Valentine’s Ash Day

The calendar lands us at a strange juxtaposition of Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday. I jokingly told some Pastor friends that maybe they should impose chocolate on people’s heads this year instead of ashes. It’s tough to give up chocolate on Valentine’s Day. Another Pastor friend posted this on FB: Cracked me up. But really, the two days have the gift of love at their core. On the one hand, Valentines invites us to express our love to those who are dear to us. Ash Wednesday reminds us of a love far greater than our human love, the love that God has for his children, that while we are yet dust, sinners in a sometimes very evil world, God sent his son to die for us so we might know the deep love of redemption and forgiveness. Love is painful and involves sacrifice. Valentine’s Day is painful for a lot of people. For the single person longing to know the joy of committed love, it stands as a stark reminder of their aloneness. For those struggling through the pain of a broken relationship, the cards and flowers and candy hearts only point to their own broken heart. And for the one who had a Valentine for more than 50 years but their beloved has passed on, it’s an unwelcome road to be on, to face this day alone. But even committed love has its share of pain embedded in it. We fight and disagree with the one we love and who loves us. We hurt those closest to us. We take them for granted and push them aside for selfish gain. Perhaps on Valentine’s Day we would do well to sit with the pain of the way we disappoint our loved ones in order to be further propelled to love better. That’s what Lent does for us. It prepares us to experience the love of God in Christ better, more fully. But first there is some pain and sorrow. Because Ash Wednesday is pretty painful. It is a stark reminder that we are but dust, from the dust we have come to the dust we shall return. It ushers Christians into the season of Lent, a season of reflection, repentance, sorrow of our sin, fasting or giving something up, a time of solemnity when we set aside celebration to sit with our failure for just a bit so we might know the victory that is ours in Christ when Easter arrives a few weeks down the road. In church on Sunday, at the end of  the service, the pastor pointed out that all of the hymns we sung had alleluia in them and that as we enter Lent there will no music with alleluia in it until Easter. We put that away for a season so that we can learn to sit with pain and shortcomings and failure. And that’s not very much fun. But it is necessary in order to experience more fully the joy that Easter and resurrection bring. 

As for us, Doug gave me a bouquet of beautiful yellow tulips  and I asked his mom to bring some of favorite malted milk balls from MN since she arrived yesterday. There will be cards and expressions of love. There will be ashes on our foreheads after noon when we attend a midday service. And we’ll probably have something yummy to eat tonight. And I’m thinking about my single friends and the longing that they have today and wanting them to feel loved even without that special someone in their lives. 
Yes, today is a painful day for many for a variety of reasons but it’s also a joyful day because our pain is promised to be redeemed. So maybe it’s quite all right to celebrate Valentines and Ashes on the same day. Because if you are hurting today, know that there’s compassion wanting to meet you. If you are joyful today, soak it in even while acknowledging that joy recedes and you will likely need to forgiven by a loved one sooner than later. Love well. Forgive well. Admit your shortcomings and Thank God He’s present in it all.