Ash Wednesday/Valentine's Day

 Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

 Psalm 51:1-17

 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

 Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the season of Lent, the forty days (not including Sundays) leading to Easter. It is a season of penitence and confession, a time to do the spiritual work to improve our relationship with Christ. We repent of our broken relationship with God and others. We practice spiritual disciplines, such as fasting, prayer, scripture reading to make things right. Some of us give up things like chocolate or alcohol as a sort of sacrifice; others take on service opportunities during the forty days.

So do we greet each other today with “Happy Valentine’s Day” or “Happy Ash Wednesday?” it’s a little disorienting when the calendar plays tricks on us. Ash Wednesday doesn’t fall on Valentine’s Day very often- usually only three times or so per century- but I’ve felt like it happened very recently for some reason. And sure enough, after Googling this morning I learned I was correct; Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday teamed up in 2018 and will do so again in 2029. And that will be it for the 21st century!

Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate romantic love; is it too far to suggest that Ash Wednesday- and the season of Lent- are occasions to celebrate divine love? Are the two really so far apart? How many times did we reference divine love in the scriptures assigned for this day?

  Yet even now, says the LORD,

    return to me with all your hearts,

        with fasting, with weeping, and with sorrow;

 tear your hearts

        and not your clothing.  

Return to the LORD your God,

        for he is merciful and compassionate,

        very patient, full of faithful love,

            and ready to forgive.

 Create a clean heart for me, God;

    put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!

Return to God with all our hearts, change our hearts, ask God to give us new hearts, it’s like the Bible and Hallmark created a partnership! Perhaps the lesson here is that love is as much a spiritual discipline as anything else.

Christy and I have been fortunate to be part of a very close group of several couples for the past 25 years. We all met at church, in Sunday school, some of us married, others still dating. No one had children. Then the first arrived- Caitlin Elizabeth Rogers, born to Richard and Anne, in January 2001. Two years ago this week, Caitlin was murdered by a former acquaintance who then took his own life. 

Wanting to do something about relationship violence, Caitlin’s parents soon began working with One Love. One Love is a foundation empowering young people with the tools and resources they need to see the signs of healthy and unhealthy relationships and bring life-saving prevention education to their communities. More than 1/3 of women experience some form of abuse in their relationships during their lifetime; 1/3 of men experience abuse as well, and half of transgender and non binary people. Through education, raising awareness, and mobilization One Love seeks to end relationship abuse and create a world of better relationships. You can go to their website,, and find 10 signs of a healthy relationship, and 10 signs of an unhealthy relationship, for example.

This Friday the 16th Caitlin’s family will host a Day of Love in Caitlin’s memory. All five members of the Drenner family, wherever we are, will wear these special t-shirts to remember a life taken by senseless violence. Posting about Caitlin’s Day of Love, Anne said, “We always felt that Caitlin was destined to make a positive impact in the world. Even though she ran out of time to do that work herself, we hope her story can have a positive effect on as many young people and their families as possible."

The ashes of Ash Wednesday remind of us our mortality; the reality that each one of us will face death at some point. The season of Lent gives us an opportunity to do the cleaning, healing work of confessing our sin, owning our broken relationships with God and others, and loving enough to make things right- or at least better.

A couple of weeks following Caitlin’s death we gathered to celebrate her life. I was asked to share some reflections. I remembered when our couples group read Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom on a retreat before any of us had kids. I pulled this quote from the book: 

“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they are chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning in your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to the community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”

It spoke to me about how Caitlin lived her final days before tragedy took her from us. But it works for us as well during Lent.

Devote yourself to love. Devote yourself to community.. Devotion. It is what Lent is all about.

So using whatever spiritual tools available to you, may you embrace these forty days of discipline and growth so that you may love, and experience divine love, more deeply. When Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day team up again in 2029, you’ll have full hearts, ready to share God’s love with the broken, hurting corners of the world.