This week the 2018 calendar alerts us to two significant cultural occurrences, the first being the secular celebration of Valentine’s Day and the second being the religious observance of Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent, the Christian season of penitential preparation for Holy Week and Easter. Coincidentally, both observances fall on February 14th.
If you were to consider the events together, you might think you were comparing apples to oranges: Valentine’s Day is about romantic love and Ash Wednesday is not. In fact, Ash Wednesday can appear to the casual observer as more of a “hate yourself” high holy day. A time not to reflect on a significant other, but instead to mourn our own insignificance. Do we not, with much seriousness, tell ourselves on that day, “it is from dust we have come and to dust we shall return?” What an epitaph! It feels like it doesn’t get more inconsequential than that.
I think, however, further reflection helps us to see Ash Wednesday and Lent differently than a rejection of who we are or a rejection of those whom we love. It is in a sense, an invitation to embrace who we are, first without Christ and then with Christ. It is a recognition that yes we are insignificant, but more significant than any human could make us feel. It’s a significance not based on a human hug, but on an indescribable love of God for us, a divine embrace.
Even though we might lament our “dustiness,” we can own it, recognizing it as a confession of faith in God’s creative activity—as far back as Genesis and as near as today. Our status of “being loved” goes beyond our human ability or inability, beyond chocolates and flowers and their accompanying platitudes.
For Christians who observe Ash Wednesday, we intentionally have a cross made of ash marked on our forehead. This year we can draw a heart. It would not change the meaning of the work of Christ. In fact, it might amplify how his death for us is an act of love, an unconditional embracing of dust as the most consequential part of His creation. Yes, it is true to say from dust we have come and to dust we shall return, but it is also true to add, for as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
Human relationships come and go; even the longest of marriages eventually end. But this relationship we have with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is a relationship that goes beyond secular and even religious observances. It goes to the heart of the matter that we are His, saved by the person and work of Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit to do good works and tell the world about God’s love—a love not of human romance, but of divine grace, a love not observed once a year, but for all eternity.
Lenten “Love” Blessings,