Ash Wednesday is on February 14th this year—Valentine’s Day. While some may think it strange to celebrate romantic love on the same day that we remember “we are dust and to dust we will return,” I think it works!
What greater sign of love do we have than Jesus dying on the cross and rising to give us a new relationship with God and each other? The iconic John 3:16 ties it all together perfectly: “For God so loved the world that God gave his only Son so that all who believe in him may not perish but have eternal life.”
In many places, Biblical authors use romantic love as a metaphor for desire for God. The Song of Solomon in the Hebrew Bible is all about romantic love, and for thousands of years, both Christians and Jews has used the longing of the Songs as a metaphor for God’s desire for God’s people and vice versa. In Ephesians 5, Christ’s love for the Church is compared to the proper relationship between husband and wife.
While some may want to distinguish the different Greek words for love, I think it is fair to translate John 3:16 as “God so desired a relationship with the rebellious world that God gave his only Son…” We should not drain the emotion from the Biblical witness about God! “God desires no one to perish but all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). Jesus says on the way to the cross, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…” (Matt 23:37).
So, it is appropriate to celebrate Valentine’s Day on Ash Wednesday, marked with the ashes on our foreheads with a more clear sign than a candy heart: an ash cross. What love God has shown to us!
And how much do we need to focus on the substantial love of God to transform a violent and rebellious humanity! The love demonstrated by God and celebrated on Ash Wednesday is no shallow saying or quickly dying rose; it is the Word of God that transforms the sinner into a saint and brings the dead to life!
As we begin Lent, we too are called into the substantial acts of love after our Lord who gave himself for us. It is a substantial act of love to listen to someone who is so convinced they are right that they can’t hear a word anyone else is saying. It is a substantial act of love to care about the well-being of someone who doesn’t care for anyone else, maybe not themselves. It is a substantial act of love to bite one’s tongue, to resist a smart aleck retort, to interpret someone else’s action in the kindest way, to fact check a heart-pounding post before sharing it, to forgive and let go of grievances in the past in order to forge a new future.
For God so loved the world…
Grateful to be dust in the hand of a loving God,