Ashes and Valentines
In the middle of February this year, two observances collide on the 14th: Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day. Naturally, I started to think about the connection between “Ashes and Valentines.” Is there one?
First, I checked my sources and read about the historic (or legendary) character St. Valentine. This Christian man was a physician and priest around 270 AD in Rome. Since the Christian Church was outlawed in those days, Valentine performed many weddings in secret. He also gave assistance to martyrs who were imprisoned under Caesar Claudius II. These activities led to his arrest and, ultimately, to his death. He was stoned and clubbed, but refused to renounce his faith. Therefore, he was beheaded. It is said that he wrote a note to a girl, whose sight Valentine miraculously restored. Valentine signed the note: “From your Valentine.”
I thought Valentine’s Day was invented by Hallmark or some other card company. Turns out to have a sort of religious meaning after all.
We all know that the purpose of ashes on Ash Wednesday is to strike a somber note at the beginning of the Lenten Season. The ashes remind us of the shortness of our life and of our death. It further reminds us of the great love God has for us. As John wrote: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
Ash Wednesday proclaims the deep, unconditional love God has for us and all creation. Although the imposition of ashes is not a warm, happy symbol, it does begin us on a spiritual journey that ends with the glorious resurrection of Jesus, our Savior, on a Saturday evening at the Great Vigil of Easter.
So there may be a connection between ashes and valentines. If you participate in the customs of Valentine’s Day and you are signing your name on that special card, recall God’s Valentine greeting to us. As you feast again on heart-shaped cookies or cake, picture God’s heart, broken for us on Calvary’s cross and mended with the rolling away of a gravestone and the re-appearance of Jesus.
As you move on your Lenten journey this year, give some consideration to the traditional disciplines: daily prayer, acts of charity, and fasting. Remember, prayer might be as simple as reading a short meditation from a Lenten devotional booklet. Acts of charity might be as simple as giving a dollar to a beggar or bringing in a donation for the food cupboard. Fasting might mean giving up some habit that is unhealthy or something that you dearly love to do.
May your Lenten journey bring you into a closer relationship with our Lord. May you see God walking beside you. May you always be assured that God’s Spirit is constantly whispering in your ear: “I love you. You are my daughter/my son.”
+Pastor Paul Koch
Pittsburgh Lutheran United Ministries (PLUM), 405 Kennedy Avenue, Duquesne, PA 15110 412-466-7773