This year Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of Lent, is 14th February – which, of course, is also St Valentine’s Day.
My first reaction on making the connection was to think that is a bit of a downer: all the romance, positivity and love we think about on Valentine’s Day, doesn’t appear at first sight to go with the seriousness of Lent which for Christians is meant to be a preparation first for the saddest day in the Christian calendar, Good Friday as well, of course, for the glorious day of Easter Sunday.
But the more I thought about this, the more I did see quite an important connection. Jesus’ journey to Good Friday, the day we remember his crucifixion, is a journey of love. It is a curiously overlooked fact and question – why was Jesus put to death? The answer becomes clear by reading any one of the four gospels in its entirety, (something that takes about an hour or so): Jesus proclaimed the inclusive love of God for all people. Not only did he say it but he lived it. As the bible tells us, the good people of the time said angrily “He eats with tax collectors and sinners”!! For so many people that was deeply shocking and offensive, as it challenged their own lack of love and narrow-mindedness. And so, they stitched him up with a kangaroo court of a trial. Even then Jesus showed a depth of love right to the cross itself – whilst being mocked as he was being crucified, saying “Father forgive them for they do not know what they do”.
If all that isn’t about the highest quality of love, what is it? So, this Ash Wednesday, whilst acknowledging the serious nature of the day, I am going to see it also as a celebration of God’s infinite love shown in Jesus.
And then another link came to mind. In the past, we were always encouraged to give up something for Lent, which in my experience used to lead either to failure, which is not a positive feeling, or grumpiness because I wanted that bar of chocolate but could not have it – or indeed both! In more recent years, Chrisitan spiritual writers have suggested, rather than give something up as a symbol of trying to do better, actually to do something positive. And that too is easily linked to loving. Love is not just a romantic idea, but a practical living out of a way of life. So perhaps to think of someone in need of help, or support, or friendship – but somehow, up to now, our busy lives have not quite made the time; or someone with whom we have struggled and whom we find difficult, instead trying to work towards reconciliation or forgiveness.
The love of Valentine’s Day can encompass both the romance AND our living more loving lives, which, for Christians, might well involve looking to, and learning from Jesus, his life and his loving.
Happy Valentine’s Day!