Today is one of those unique days when the church calendar and the secular calendar collide in a strange way. Today is both Ash Wednesday and Valentines Day. So does that mean you get to take your date to worship after dinner? You certainly can, but you might want to be careful how you frame that combination.
Ash Wednesday is an opportunity to reflect on the reality that we are all mortal. In the Book of Genesis (3:19), God reminds Adam and Eve that they were created out of dust, and to dust they will eventually return. Take a giant leap forward and we have the practice of people attend worship on Ash Wednesday and allowing ashes to be applied to their foreheads. This serves as a reminder of our mortality and prompts many people to reflect on what is really important and what relationships might benefit from further investment. It is meant to be a reminder that we only have so much time here as mortals and if there are items on our bucket list we might want to see how we are doing. If you check with the summer staff at Pilgrim Center, when someone remarks that their work is killing them, I have the unsettling habit of reminding them that we are all dying, some of us just quicker than others. By the end of the summer the horrified looks subside and they are not nearly as shocked by my comment as they might be in the beginning. I intentionally do this in part to remind them of our mortality, and the value in not taking life for granted, to cherish what is important and not waste time on what isn’t really important. Ash Wednesday serves that same purpose. It is an opportunity to take stock of what is important and to assess how we are living out that value.
If indeed Valentines Day is an opportunity to celebrate and highlight someone who is important in our lives then maybe the two occasions do really fit well together. Ash Wednesday serves as the reminder and Valentines Day gives us an opportunity to act on that reminder. I am not sure offering your date a forehead full of ashes is going to serve you well, but a thoughtful and heartfelt token of your love might be a good way to live out what Ash Wednesday is attempting to accomplish in the first place.
~ Rev. Nathan Athorp