Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. – 1 John 4:7-8
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. It occurs 46 days before Easter, it will always fall on a Wednesday—there cannot be an “Ash Thursday” or “Ash Monday.” Lent is intended to be a time of self-denial, moderation, fasting, and the forsaking of sinful activities and habits. Ash Wednesday commences this period of spiritual discipline. According to the canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus Christ spent 40 days fasting in the desert, where He endured temptation by Satan. Lent originated as a mirroring of this, fasting 40 days as preparation for Easter. Ash Wednesday is observed by many Christians, including Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, and some Baptists.
For the first time since 1945, Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday will fall on the same day—February 14, 2018. That’s right, the holiday set aside for lavishing our loved ones with chocolates, classy restaurants and red roses shares the exact same calendar date as the first day of Lent, a season many Christians will begin to practice intentional sacrifice in preparation for Easter.
So, what does this mean? As Christians, how do we participate in the pink-and-red, heart-shaped festivities while observing the gravity of Christ’s sacrifice? To answer this question we must take a close look and go a little deeper into the two very different observances. And, then look to Scripture to find the answers. So, here we go…
Origins of Valentine’s Day
No one is quite sure how Valentine’s Day started – some say it began as a Roman party that was transformed into a celebration of St. Valentine, who we know very little about. Some say the poet Chaucer connected St. Valentine to romance because it was at a time when birds started to mate and plants began to bloom. Whatever the case may be, Valentine’s Day as we know it today began to be popularly celebrated around the 17th century. And, by the middle of the 18th century, it was common for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange small gifts of affection or handwritten notes.
Origins of Ash Wednesday
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, a forty-day period that represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring temptation and preparing to begin his ministry. It’s a time Christians practice intentional sacrifice, along with repentance. Many Christians will attend ceremonies where ashes in the shape of a cross will be smudged on their foreheads—the ashes: a reminder of their mortality; the cross: a reminder of the good news that through the crucifixion of Jesus Christ all is forgiven.
So, let’s recap:
Valentine’s Day: Not quite sure who or what started the celebration. Turned into what we now know as Valentine’s Day in the 17th century. Friends and lovers exchange gifts.
Ash Wednesday: Honors the 40 days and 40 nights Jesus endured temptation after temptation from the enemy – and NEVER gave in. Christians practice intentional sacrifice to prepare their hearts and minds for Easter.
Now what? As Christians, what do we do on February 14, 2018. The world points to Valentine’s Day (which some of us like too), but as Christians isn’t Lent more important? Oh how to balance? How can we be in the world and not of it. Let’s take a look at Scripture for some guidance.
In John 2:1-11, Jesus is attending a wedding celebration with His mother Mary. And, at this wedding, the family ran out of wine for their guests. Culturally this would have brought disgrace on the family, it was considered a matter of honor to plan well and provide for all the guests.
Mary then asked her Son to change it. She asked Him to turn it from a moment of disgrace to grand hospitality, to rescue a man who hadn’t planned well, to keep the community of celebration going. She asks because she believes Jesus can change this moment and she so believes that she tells the servers to do whatever He says.
Jesus’ initial response to the situation, “What does that have to do with you and me, woman?” was meant to remind Mary that He had a greater agenda to fulfill than hers or that of the rest of the wedding party. However, following that conversation, He turned six stone water jars into wine for the wedding guests. Therefore, saving the family from humiliation.
Jesus understood and engaged with our world enough to be relevant and yet He continued to be about the work of the Lord. He performed a miracle to help a family avoid a social faux pas—a man-made rule that existed for some unknown reason during His time on Earth. And, while He certainly let us know He had bigger plans, the miracle He chose was one that showed how He was in the world, He understood their traditions. Validated their feelings. Cared for them. Spoke truth.
So this year on February 14, let’s use Valentine’s Day to show others the bigger picture. While Valentine’s Day may be a fleeting society-based, man-made holiday, it’s also a time that we can let others know about the Lord’s unfailing love for us. And, let’s allow our hearts to feel the weight of Ash Wednesday. Because, as Christians, we know that Jesus and the sacrifice He made will remain true—it will be the foundation of who we are for the rest of eternity. So, let’s set our minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Colossians 3:2), but let’s follow the example of Jesus and be just relevant enough to continue the work of the Lord.
As February 14 approaches this year, spend some quiet time with God. Ask Him how you should spend your day – and whether that be in prayer, fasting, serving, sharing His love, at church or in the Word, follow His lead and if you do, who knows what miracles might come? Who knows how God can take this ordinary holiday and turn it into something extravagant? Turn water to wine?
Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evildoers. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way. For they cannot rest until they do evil; they are robbed of sleep till they make someone stumble. They eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence. – Proverbs 4:14-17
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