On Wednesday, February 14, two holidays will vie for people’s attention: Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday. While people can purchase greeting cards for both holidays, there’s no doubt which holiday will win the market. While most everyone quickly recognizes the significance of Valentine’s Day—a celebration of love, affection, romance, and (to judge by the appearance of most retail stores) all things red and pink—we may be excused if the notation of “Ash Wednesday” on our calendars leaves us scratching our heads.
Among many Christian traditions, Ash Wednesday, scheduled 46 days before Easter, kicks off the season of Lent. For many, keeping this holy day means fasting, specifically abstaining from eating meat. I wonder whether there will be fewer steak dinners served at restaurants this Wednesday night. In any case, the name “Ash Wednesday” reflects the traditional practice of applying ashes to one’s forehead, usually in the shape of a cross, as a sign of repentance, mourning over and turning away from sin.
Perhaps it really is quite fitting that we might celebrate these two holidays together occasionally. Love and repentance should both be regularly expressed in relationships. In fact, love motivates, causes, and results in repentance. When we fail—whether in our relationship with God or our relationships with other people—when we say hurtful things, when we deceive, when we worry, when we act in destructive ways, the appropriate expression of love in response is to repent, to feel genuine sorrow, to ask the person we’ve hurt (and God) to forgive us, and to seek to change our sinful attitudes and our sinful behavior.
Ultimately, repentance is also a gift from God, something he grants to us because of his love for us (see Acts 11:18 and 2 Timothy 2:25). Jesus died and rose from the dead to bring sinners into relationship with God (1 Peter 3:18), by providing both forgiveness of sin and repentance from sin (Luke 24:46-47).
So, whether you send a valentine or a “Happy Ash Wednesday” card, remember: God loves you so that you may repent from sin, not the other way around.
Mr. Justin Langley is Minister of Discipleship of Kilgore Bible Church in Kilgore. You can reach him through the congregation’s website: www.kilgorebiblechurch.org.