Valentine’s Day can be difficult enough without throwing Ash Wednesday in. Whether you’re struggling to find a meaningful gift that somehow, in some way expresses your unique and always-new love to your significant other, or are enduring the pain of a lost companion, or feeling left out of the holiday as a single person, Valentine’s Day by itself can press down on us with its load of hard-to-meet expectations.
Now pile on one more thing: this year Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday are the same day. How much more can two days differ? That holy day of ashy gray and graveside black, of remembering we are and will return to dust clashes about as much as it is possible to clash with the pink hearts and red cards and sugary candy and saccharine sentiments of our national Hallmark holiday. So how do we handle the dilemma of this ambivalent commencement to Lent?
Paradox: it means holding 2 opposing things to be true at the same time, and somehow being ok with it. If Luther was right and the Christian faith is full of paradox, then maybe there is no real dilemma here at all. After all, we believe in a man who was born from a virgin, a man who was human but also God, who beat the devil by being defeated, saving the world by losing his life, destroying death by dying, and then leading his people by leaving them and going into heaven. We worship him by eating his body which is also bread and drinking his blood which happens to be wine, so we can find true forgiveness while still remaining sinners. Christians should be really good at paradox.
When we think about Lent, that 40 days of following Jesus as he makes his way to the cross…we’re often hard on ourselves. We consider our sinfulness, and usually think about depriving ourselves of something nice, or being more disciplined and thoughtful. We try to minimize our own sense of worthiness to remind ourselves how undeserving we are of Christ’s love. Maybe all that self-reflection sometimes gets in the way of what Lent is really about – that pathway of love that led Jesus to the cross in the first place. Jesus did what He did out of love for you. He looks at you and sees a beloved child of God.
So maybe it’s not so much of a paradox after all. Maybe it makes good Lenten sense to think about all those Valentine’s clichés, the messages on the little candy hearts: “Dear One,” “You Rock,” “Love U,” “Be Mine.” After all, it was Jesus who said, “…love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:12). If you travel with your eyes open, the path of Lent will show you just how dear you are to him, and how much he wants you to be his.
This year our Lenten worship will take two separate tracks – the Wednesday night services will carry this Ash Wednesday/Valentine’s Day tie-in through the whole season with our “Lent is Love” series. Each evening on the Wednesdays of Lent we will give away a magnetic puzzle piece to every worshiper, which together will form a beautiful image of Jesus. In worship each week we will examine a different aspect of God’s love and a different verse from “the love chapter” 1 Corinthians 13. Though we’re used to hearing those verses only at weddings, they have to do with the unique love God gives each of us, a love he expects us to share with others.Our Sunday services will take a different track, as we follow along with the Lenten devotional You Are the Way. These small booklets contain readings for every day of the Lenten season, and focus on the “I am” statements of Jesus. The “I am” passages give us hints and clues as to who Jesus is for us individually and as members of His Church. The You Are the Way devotionals will be our guide through this season. You may order one from Augsburg here.
Now in addition to the three services each weekend, we will also have midweek Lenten services starting Ash Wednesday. There are more ways than ever to make your way to the light of Easter’s empty tomb here at Atonement. We hope you will find a path this Lent that leads you closer to the one who gave us the greatest love of all – Jesus, our Lord.