Today is Ash Wednesday. Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. I’m not sure if you could plan a better juxtaposition of symbols.
On Ash Wednesday, millions of Christians will have their foreheads marked with ashes, as a reminder of their mortality and sin. Ash Wednesday also marks the beginning of Lent, when Christians traditionally begin a pattern of fasting in preparation for Easter, which often involves giving up foods like chocolate or candy. At our church, we’re removing our usual flowers from the sanctuary as part of our Lenten preparation and replacing them with two Crown of Thorns.
On Valentine’s Day, meanwhile, we give chocolate, flowers, and jewelry to our significant others as symbols of our love. The larger, more elaborate, and more expensive they are, the better, since our gifts are supposed to represent our love.
Both of these days are about love, albeit in very different ways. Valentine’s is, reportedly, a celebration of romantic love. (I say “reportedly” because it seems to have it’s most devoted adherents among the grade school set.) Ash Wednesday, meanwhile, points us toward Easter, when we remember God’s love for us through the sacrifice of his Son. The acts of Ash Wednesday and the rest of Lent are symbols of our response to his love.
It’s good to give chocolate and flowers. It’s better to give yourself.