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Ash Wednesday, Valentine’s Day, and True Love

How will you handle the confluence of traditions and romantic ideas today? On the one hand, it is Valentine’s Day. It is a celebration of romantic love and indulgence in chocolate, food, flowers, and all sorts of pleasure. On the other hand, it is Ash Wednesday. It is a day that marks the beginning of Jesus’ journey to the cross. It is a day when many Christians enter into a time of solemnity, contemplating our own mortality and seeking a simpler life of fasting and prayer.

What to do.

I was encouraged by an article in the Washington Post this morning. Christopher J. Hale says,

For a Christian, the rock band Boston got it right in 1976: Love is “more than a feeling.” We doubt the authenticity of the Kay Jewelers, empty-shelled love that marks the bourgeois celebration of modern-day Valentine’s Day. Christian love is less about feeling and more about action. It’s gritty. It’s messy. It hurts. In fact, we distrust a love that doesn’t suffer and costs nothing. Paul puts this reality simply in his letter to the Corinthians. He tells us that a love only spoken, but not acted upon, is as worthless as a “clashing cymbal,” while a love that’s performed in deed “always perseveres.” (Read the whole article here.)

I will preach about this tonight. Our text is John 10:1-18. This is known as the Good Shepherd text. At first, I thought this was a strange selection. The more I have marinated in the text, however, the more I think it is a beautiful choice. Jesus said that he is the Good Shepherd. “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (verse 11)”

Jesus later told his disciples,

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. “This is my commandment, that you 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 15:9–14).

Let’s face it. Valentine’s Day, as it is celebrated in our culture, is an invention of the Greeting Card, Chocolate, and floral industries, to play upon romantic notions of infatuation to make our wallets a little lighter. I know that sounds cynical, but I think it is mostly true.

Ash Wednesday, on the other hand, is a day that marks true love. It marks the beginning of a journey that demonstrates how much God loves the world, and how much God loves you.

So, friend of Jesus, as the ashes are smeared on your forehead today, I hope you consider it the best valentine ever.

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