An Ash-Covered Heart
By Anthony Casperson

Is everybody ready for this Wednesday? Some of you looked at the calendar and saw that this Wednesday is Feb. 14th. And you immediately thought I was asking about Valentine’s Day. Others might have noticed on the calendar that this Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. And, knowing my bent toward the more theological, wondered if I was talking about the beginning of the season of Lent.

Well, actually, I meant both.

And now you’re probably asking how I can be thinking of both: (1) a day where the celebration of love is brought to the forefront and (2) the day where we focus on repentance by remembering how fragile this sinful mortality is. How can I be thinking of both at the same time?

The mournful repentance of Ash Wednesday and the celebration of love of Valentine’s Day mingle into a beautiful picture. The image of the greatest act of love in human history bringing about the salvation of those who repent by accepting the love of God found on the cross.

Ashes have long been associated with mourning, repentance, and the understanding of the brevity of a human existence. In the bible, we often see people cover themselves in dust and ashes as they mourn the loss of a loved one, or as they repent from the sinful actions of themselves or their people.

It’s a reminder that we humans are nothing but dust without the hand of God. Some traditions of Ash Wednesday actually have the pastor quoting Gen. 3:19, “For dust you are and to dust you shall return.”

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the season preparing us for Resurrection Sunday (a.k.a. Easter). It points to the solemnity of the act of our salvation, how mournful the payment of our sins actually was. No death is a happy event because it goes against the true human nature that God placed in us. The human nature that was perverted to death when our first ancestors rebelled against God, leading to that quote from Genesis 3. Though the death of Jesus leads to the joy of the resurrection, even it was not a happy event.

The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was also an event bringing the love of God to the center of human history. Jesus tells his closest followers on the night before he died that the greatest act of love a person can perform is to sacrifice themselves for their friend. There is no greater love than to die for another.

No matter how we feel about Valentine’s Day and it’s modern commercial bent, it does make us think about love. And the truest, most-selfless, most-self-sacrificial love comes from God as the second Person of the Trinity poured his heart out (literally) to bring we who accept this love into proper relationship with him.

The cross might have been harsh and dirty and bloody and mournful, but it was all about having a loving relationship with the greatest lover we can have. The ashes of mourning and the relationship of love bound in one awesome image.

The fact that Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day this year leaves me to appreciate both days all the more. I hope that this Wednesday you remember both sides of that day: a single image of love and repentance. But even more, I hope that we all remember this image every day as God’s love continues to pour out on we sinners.

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