This year, for the first time since 1945, Ash Wednesday will be on Valentine’s Day. At first glance the two seem completely at odds with each other. In Cleveland, Ohio, for example, the church has suggested that schools hold their traditional Valentine’s Day dances a day early and combine them with a celebration of Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras.
There may be less of an issue in the UK, but it still feels slightly dissonant. On the one hand there is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, a period of abstinence and discipline. At Christ Church we shall be hosting the Cluster Ash Wednesday Communion Service (7.00pm, 14th February). During this service we will have a time of self-examination and an opportunity to be marked on the forehead with ashes. The ashes are both a sign of penitence, and also a reminder of our own mortality, as indicated by the words that will be spoken, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Whilst we are doing this, many will be on their way out to enjoy a possibly romantic, and definitely overpriced, dinner. Valentine’s Day has become the commercial glorification of romantic love. Its roots lie in the church and the celebration of Saint Valentine, although it’s not completely clear who Valentine was. It is, however, generally agreed that he was martyred for his faith in third century Rome and it is suggested that he was punished for conducting weddings for Roman soldiers who were not supposed to marry, hence his link with romantic love. There is also a story that, on the night before his execution, he wrote a letter to his jailer’s daughter, which he signed, ‘Your Valentine’. Who knows?
Perhaps the two are not so dissonant after all. The season of Lent, commencing on Ash Wednesday, culminates with Good Friday. Good Friday is not about romantic love, but it is about intense love. The love that God had for the human race was so powerful that he was willing to give his son for us. The love that Jesus had for his father God, and for the human race that he had become part of, was so strong that he was prepared to die.
During Lent, at Christ Church many of us will be reading some of the passages from the Old Testament of the Bible that point us towards Jesus and, in particular, his death on the first Good Friday. If you would like to join us, even if you don’t come to church regularly, do get in touch.
However we mark Lent, whether it is by reading the Bible or giving up chocolate, we do so to help us to be ready to acknowledge Jesus’ sacrifice of love on Good Friday and to celebrate the life that he offers us on Easter Sunday.
God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
Revd Andy Wilson
Vicar, Christ Church Portsdown
Joint Area Dean, Havant
Chaplain, Havant & Waterlooville FC