Pastor’s Perspective – February 2024
The 2024 calendar has given us a wonderful opportunity to right a wrong, to correct a spiritual error concerning the nature of God’s love for his people.
The season of Lent will begin in February with the traditional celebration of Ash Wednesday. What is strange and unique about this year is that Lent will begin on February 14, which for those of you who might have date night already planned, is the traditional celebration of St. Valentine’s Day.
If you immediately wonder what color goes well with ashes, then you are beginning to understand the conflict inherent in this clash of celebrations. But take heart, God is at work.
These two holidays may seem worlds apart, especially for those who have surreptitiously removed the Saint from Valentine’s Day, but they are closer in nature than most might consider. Valentine’s Day has become a celebration of soft and flowery romantic love. A trip down the greeting card aisle in your local Kroger will reveal an explosion of red and pink hearts intending to assist romantic partners in their courtship. It has, through the efforts of Hallmark (the card and television network) and like-minded people, become a day for recognizing and exploring the possibilities of love, American style.
Hallmark style love is romance. It is what the Greek language would refer to as Eros. It is chocolates, flowers, and passion. When Americans consider love, they think Eros. Erotic love between a husband and wife, or more frequently in a post-Christian age, two partners. Valentine’s Day serves this culture as a reminder to “up our romantic game” and remember the commitment that we have to our beloved.
The truth is that Ash Wednesday has similar themes, with one important distinction. One might think that superimposing Valentine’s Day onto Ash Wednesday, a day in which Christians contemplate sin and death and literally wear ashes on their forehead, would be disastrous. I have whimsically imagined furious crowds of perfectly dressed chocolate waving partisans clashing in the streets in opposition to men and women with ashen foreheads and simple clothing, shouting down the candy bearers with the vigor of a vegan at meat processing plant. Each believing that they are the true lovers in a world of hate.
St. Valentine would weep tears of frustration.
This moment in which opposites repel, can become a moment in which polarities are shifted. The love inherent in the season of Lent is self-giving agape love. It is fully sacrificial, but also incredibly romantic in the classic sense. It is the love of one who gives his life to show the world the love of God. You see, God has informed us through Jesus Christ our Lord that He loves us so much that he would die for our sake.
An exploration of St. Valentine will tell us that Valentine’s Day tells the same story. The story of a man whose love for persecuted Christians and the children of royalty was so overwhelming that he was willing to die to share the salvation that Jesus brings to us so that just one person, just one wounded family, might know the love and salvation of God. Jesus died because of his love for the church, biblically remembered as the bride of Jesus Christ. St. Valentine died because he also embraced that same form of love.
The Church of the past, the Church of St. Valentine’s epoch, knew how to spin the story to share the gospel. It is something that we have forgotten in our age of conflict. Instead of fighting for supremacy in the public square, let us consider dying to self and putting the focus on God’s love in the process.
How fitting it is that we spend Ash Wednesday reflecting on the truth that we are loved, not because of our physical perfection or our spiritual strength, but in spite of our own sinfulness, wretchedness, and ugliness.
Let’s put it in romantic terms. Young women & men, if you find someone who will love you with ashes on your forehead, then hold onto them. They love you not just because you look fabulous, or you say the right things, or give the right gifts. Loving someone in their imperfections is showing a love that can stand the test of time and the ravages of life. It is the heart of God’s love for us, and the cornerstone for an enduring love in human relationships.
Let us celebrate God’s great love, the sacrifice that love demanded, and the joy of celebrating as a people in good times and in bad.
Have a Happy St. Valentine’s Day and blessed and sacred Lent.