The calendar is weird this month. Every year we culturally celebrate Valentine’s Day on February 14th. This year, that date happens to fall on a Wednesday. Also every year the date for Easter is calculated using an unusual formula. It is the Sunday that comes after the first full moon that is on or after the vernal equinox. For 2024 that puts Easter on March 31st. The season in the church before Easter is Lent. Lent is forty days (plus six Sundays) and it traditionally begins with Ash Wednesday. That means Ash Wednesday this year happens to fall on February 14th.
The weirdness comes from how out of alignment these two days are. Valentine’s Day is a day that is elevates the idea of romance. Valentine’s Day is celebrated with bright and vibrant colors like red and pink. Valentine’s Day also tends to be associated with acts of pampering and indulgence. Ash Wednesday on the other hand is a day that elevates the idea of repentance. Ash Wednesday services are marked by starkness and solemnity. It is a day that is designed to confront us with our own mortality and our own sin in the light of God’s redeeming love in Jesus Christ. Ash Wednesday tends to be associated with acts of confession and piety.
Trying to properly honor the fourteenth of February is going to be weird. How do we do it? Do we start out being solemn at Ash Wednesday only to go to romantic dinner with ashes on our heads or do we get all of the romantic stuff out of the way first we can then switch gears and somberly contemplate our mortality and sin? Either way it seems we have to make a hard mental pivot. One option is to ignore one or both altogether, but that is not a great option either. Valentine’s Day is a day to intentionally declare our care and love for another person. Ash Wednesday is a day to intentionally confess our great need for God, and it is an important ritual to center our hearts and souls in the appropriate attitude for lent. Both are worth participating in, but how do we do without experiencing the cognitive dissonance created by how opposite the two events are?
I think we can do that by finding some common ground. For instance, both Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday renew commitment. When we take time to honor our special someone on Valentine’s Day we are expressing to them once again how committed we are to them. In the same way, on Ash Wednesday when we confess our sins before God, we repent, we believe the gospel, and we renew our commitment to be faithful Christians
Second, the core ideal behind Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday is love. On Valentine’s Day we remind one another how much we love each other, and on Ash Wednesday we remember God’s much greater love for us. Perhaps, this common ground is how we can best honor both days. Instead of celebrating romantic love, we can celebrate unconditional love. Instead of chocolates, we can give the gift of sacrificial love to our significant others. We can love others the way that God loves us and put them above ourselves.
However you choose to best honor and celebrate the events of February 14th this year, may it be one that lovingly honors God and others, and may it be the start of a blessed and holy Lent.