We had a clash of traditions this week. Did you feel the collision? Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday happened on the same day. What's a person to do? Chocolates and gifts or sackcloth and ashes?
We had a clash of traditions this week. Did you feel the collision? Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday happened on the same day. The last time this happened was 73 years ago (1945).
Valentines Day is a high feast day on the Christian Calendar celebrating the life of St Valentine of Rome who was martyred under orders of Caesar Claudius the Second and buried north of Rome in 269 AD. His crime was performing marriages when the emperor has forbidden unmarried soldiers to take a wife based on the hypothesis that they fought better because they were not concerned about what would happen to their families if they died.
Reminds me of what the Apostle Paul suggested to single people in the church:
1 Corinthians 7:32-34 (MSG)
I want you to live as free of complications as possible. When you're unmarried, you're free to concentrate on simply pleasing the Master. Marriage involves you in all the nuts and bolts of domestic life and in wanting to please your spouse, leading to so many more demands on your attention. The time and energy that married people spend on caring for and nurturing each other, the unmarried can spend in becoming whole and holy instruments of God.
Back to St Valentine. He is executed for his stand for Christian marriage. He became known as the patron saint of lovers. The story goes that in a letter encouraging a young woman he signed it “Love, from your Valentine.” Here’s a guy who went all in because he was convinced, he couldn’t have been more certain, that there comes a time where you have to lay your life upon the line for what you believe. And with the power of the Holy Spirit, we can do that —even to the point of death."
Like most Christian holidays, this one too has a pagan background. The Roman Festival known as Lupercalia was celebrated on the 15th of February. As Christianity rose in dominance Pope Gelasius outlawed the celebration and basically Christianized it into St Valentine’s Day. It wasn’t until 1375 poet and writer of the Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer would fill full the Valentine stories with the ideas of courtly love. Let a few centuries roll by and we have the traditions we have today, surely originating in the hearts of entrepreneurs who want to cash in on your love and friendships. Flowers, candy, red hearts, cards, and of course dinners and gifts must be exchanged to demonstrate your love and devotion.
For Christians Feb 14, St Valentine's day is a feast day. Which means we are to celebrate the day commemorating the man who took a stand just like we celebrate Thanksgiving. Family, Friends laughter and a big meal.
Now Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting. It is the beginning of what we call the Lenten Season that leads up to Easter Sunday. You may have noticed believers walking around with a smudge on their foreheads, sometimes in the shape of a cross. Traditionally the ritual was to remind the faithful that they are in need of salvation. The idea harkens back to Genesis 3:19 when because of disobedience God issues a verdict:
Gen 3:18-19 (NLT)
It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made. For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.”
You’ve heard someone say “I’ve given it up for Lent.” The 40 days before Easter are to be a time of reflection and self-denial. That self-denial is an outward sign of an inward reality that as a follower of Christ you are denying yourself and following Him. So during these 40 days, you give up something you enjoy doing. During these 40 days, meals are to be pretty plain, rice beans and veggies. Back in the day, it was a sign of penance. A voluntary self-punishment as an expression of your repentance for the sins you’ve committed. Catholics, Anglicans, Episcopals, and Lutherans still pretty much practice the ritual.
But that meaning of penance doesn’t work for those who believe that Jesus took upon himself their sins and the penalty for those sins.
1 Peter 2:24 (MSG)
[Jesus] used his servant body to carry our sins to the Cross so we could be rid of sin, free to live the right way. His wounds became your healing.
We certainly repent of our sins and make restitution for our sin but we don’t have to self-punish for our sins. So for us, Ash Wednesday serves as a reminder that we must repent and believe the gospel.
Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of the Lenten Season, the time for prayer, fasting and advocacy.
Matthew 25:34-40 (NIV)
Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
37 "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
40 "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'
During the Lenten season, there is to be a personal emphasis on doing for the least of these.
To prepare these 40 days of discipline and austerity and these deeds of mercy, three days before Ash Wednesday we have Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday. It’s a time of indulgence. Of course, the world took this over and it’s a time of wanton indulgence, drunken revelry and wild excess in all things sensual. In other words, it's my kind of party. Maybe you can see a disconnect here.
Back to the main point—Valentines Day High Feast Day, Ash Wednesday a day of abstinence. See the clash of traditions? What’s a person to do—chocolates and gifts or sackcloth and ashes?
Now whether you feast or fast is totally up to you. Maybe you eat cake with ashes on your head. Here’s what’s most important, that as Valentines Day and Ash Wednesday collide remember the love of God.
1 Peter 3:15-18 (MSG)
Through thick and thin, keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ, your Master. Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you're living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy. Keep a clear conscience before God so that when people throw mud at you, none of it will stick. They'll end up realizing that they're the ones who need a bath. It's better to suffer for doing good, if that's what God wants, than to be punished for doing bad. That's what Christ did definitively: suffered because of others' sins, the Righteous One for the unrighteous ones. He went through it all—was put to death and then made alive—to bring us to God.
The most important relationship in your life is your relationship with God. No matter what happens “keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ…” It is God’s will that everyone live in a right relationship with Him, Jesus sacrificially surrenders his life in the ultimate act of self-denial and love that His Fathers will be accomplished. This is the greatest gifts of love the world has ever witnessed.
John 1:12 (MSG)
“…whoever did want [Jesus], who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves.”
Valentine, receive the gift of that love, Ash Wednesday deny anything that would deter, damage or destroy your adoration, your veneration of the one who died that you might live.
When your relationship with God is right your ready to tell about your Valentine. Why would anyone ask you about the love of your life? Because they see in your actions, in your joy and peace, in your patience and kindness, in your self-control something that is attractive, something that they want. For those who ask, be ready with your testimony, your story of how you came to acknowledge that you needed to change, how you came to believe in Jesus and how you made a commitment to follow, decisions that have been transforming you from the inside out ever since.
It's so easy to be shady these days. One of my all-time favorite ways of taking the Lord’s name in vain is saying you’re a Christian and rip people off. Close to the top of the list is when someone who says they are a Christian engages in hate, condemnation, and judgment of others. Ash Wednesday—keep a clear conscience, be above board, be a person of integrity. If that Valentine love hurts, that’s what Ash Wednesday’s self-denial is all about. It's better to suffer for doing good, if that's what God wants than to be punished for doing bad.
We see Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday collide in love and in sacrifice. That's what Christ did definitively: suffered because of others' sins, the Righteous One for the unrighteous ones. What Jesus did His followers are to do, we are the ones who sacrifice to bring love to others. It is through loving others that we bring people to God.
What to do as a follower of Christ when a high feast day like Valentine’s Day collides with an austerity day like Ash Wednesday? Remember the love of God. Remember to be a lover especially when you must deny self to be so.
Paris: Lamb of God