Hearts & Ashes
Something rare will happen next Wednesday – the confluence of two holidays on a single date – Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday colliding on a single square on the calendar, February 14. At first blush, these two holiday partners appear to have little in common.
Valentine’s Day is all about romantic love. Red roses, bottles of wine, cards and notes, and gifts for your sweetheart. Candy hearts, chocolate hearts, lacy hearts. All is meant to be sentimental, dreamy, and passionate. The Hallmark channel is going to have a big day.
Ash Wednesday is all about sacrificial love. It is touched with mortality, loss, and death.
Jesus turns his face resolutely toward Jerusalem, but his body won’t survive this last trip there. There will be blood. A cross. Bread and wine at a final supper. Body and blood. Red of a more crimson hue.
Given the two alternatives, who would sign up for ashes over hearts? Who would choose to indulge in grim reality over warm romanticism? Crosses or chocolates? I’m pretty sure I know which holiday is going to win out in terms of public attention and economic activity here in the USA. But, sadly, choosing a sweet candy heart over the ashes is missing what real love is all about.
The love of God, as described in the Bible, is a different species of “love” than the romantic type. Being in love, romantic love, and marital love are all incredible gifts. But the essence of love goes transcendently deeper. The truest type of love is demonstrated through sacrifice.
Promising to be with another person and then sticking with them even when it hurts. Putting their needs ahead of yours. And that is what God has done for us in Jesus. Sacrificed the heights of heaven to descend to mortal, broken humanity. Sacrificed his time and energy to walk in our shoes. Sacrificed the easy path to pursue the Father’s will to the bitter end. Sacrificed his righteous right to avoid pain, mockery, and derision. Sacrificed his life’s blood on the cross.
The essence of love is made known through sacrifice. That’s why I will lean harder into the ashes than into the candy hearts this February 14th. I invite you to join Jesus in this. There are two ways that Elmhurst CRC is seeking to share the love on Ash Wednesday:
First option: You can participate in a drive-through event under the portico on the west side of the building between 7 and 9:00 a.m. or 11:30 and 1:00 p.m. You can receive the sign of ashes on your forehead and hear this word of Scripture: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Second option: You can participate in an Ash Wednesday worship service in the Garden Room at ECRC at 6:30 p.m. This will be a 25-minute service with singing, prayer, and concluding with the imposition of ashes.
Grace to you next Wednesday as we turn to know real love more deeply,
– Pastor Gregg