Rev. Dr. Devin Strong
Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church
The most memorable Valentine’s Day that I can remember happened years ago when our kids were small. I had just pulled into the garage after a full day of work, and our daughter came out with a fistful of her hard-earned money and gave it to me. She and her brother had broken into their piggy banks and wanted my wife and me to use their money to go out to a Valentine’s Day dinner! It was an incredibly loving and touching gesture. Chris and I immediately headed out to a favorite seafood chain restaurant (which shall remain nameless to protect the guilty!).
Since it was Valentine’s Day, the place was packed and smoke-filled. We had a long wait at the bar for a table, but once we got seated, we had a decent meal on our kids and headed home. Unfortunately, both Chris and I ended up with the worst case of food poisoning either of us has ever had, before or since. Still, it’s the thought that counts, and I will never forget our kids’ kind gesture.
Valentine’s Day is all about love and romance, especially for new couples, and statistics indicate that we are spending more money on Valentine’s Day every year. Lord knows that we need to celebrate love every chance that we get!
This year Ash Wednesday also happens to fall on February 14th. This is, of course, the traditional beginning of the season of Lent for liturgical churches. Ash Wednesday is about love, too, or at least it’s supposed to be. In the last generation or two, Ash Wednesday has become an increasingly somber observance when we pastors lay guilt on our congregations for our individual and collective sins. There is a place for naming sin boldly and concretely, especially when we talk about it in terms of “we” and not just “you.”
Still, at its core, Ash Wednesday is about Jesus’ love more than it is about our failings. On this day you and I use the church’s liturgy to get really honest about where we come from and, without God’s intervention, where we are headed. We admit that every one of us comes from the dust of the ground and that one day we will again be food for worms.
Thanks to Jesus, that is not the end of our story. On Ash Wednesday, we receive ashes on our foreheads in the sign of a cross with the well-known words, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
The most important part of this liturgy is that the ashes are in the sign of the cross.
Jesus’ death and resurrection interrupt the cycle and break the natural order of things!
Because of Jesus, you and I do not die in our failures. We are raised to new life and land softly in God’s hands. Ash Wednesday is all about Jesus’ love.
At first glance, Valentine’s and Ash Wednesday seem about as different as two days can be, but in fact, they share a common theme. Even more, I submit that it is the Lord’s first love of us that makes it possible for us to love our partners.
On Wednesday, February 14th, Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church will host a free dinner at 6:00 p.m. followed by a traditional Ash Wednesday worship service at 6:30 p.m. Everyone is cordially invited to join us in celebrating Jesus’ love.