An Ash Wednesday Valentine Card might read something like, “Roses are red, violets are blue, from the dust you have come and to dust you shall return.” For the first time since 1945 Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day. The day we solemnly reflect on our mortality by getting a cross-shaped ash smeared onto our foreheads is the same day we express our love with chocolate and roses – my wife prefers daisies.
At around thirty years old, Jesus has a powerful experience when his cousin, John, baptizes him in the Jordan River. Coming up out of the muddy waters Jesus experiences God’s claim on his life when he hears, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”[i] It is with the self-awareness of being the Son of God that Jesus is led by the Spirit of God into the wilderness.
In the wilderness Jesus finds himself being tempted by the devil. The temptations thrown his way are not what we normally think of as temptations – lie, cheat, and steal. Jesus finds himself being confronted with choosing a way of life and a vocation that is less than what God would have him to be.
The struggle is real.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of our struggle to spend the next forty days re-claiming our identity as the beloved of God. In a world where we are tempted to choose an identity and vocation less than what God would have for us, it is good to have a season of self-awareness.
The journey begins with an ash marked cross on the forehead that forces us to humbly recognize that we are from the dust and to the dust we shall return. And yet, receiving the ashes in the symbol of a cross is a reminder that we are claimed by God. We are mortal but we are not hopeless. We are weak but we are not forgotten. We are broken but we are not unloved. I’d say that makes for a pretty good Valentine Day message.
[i] Matthew 3: 17