From the beginning of February or even earlier, the chilly grey days are brightened by racks of Valentine’s cards on sale in the shops. Nearer to St Valentine’s day, 14th February, the supermarkets display flowers, special meals, chocolates in red shiny foil and bottles of fizzy wine, all to treat your true love. It is good to celebrate and to have someone special but many are excluded if the focus is only romantic love.
This year Ash Wednesday also falls on the 14th February marking the start of Lent. During Lent people are called to self-examination and penitence, study and self-denial in preparation for Easter with no flowers in church and maybe no chocolates, special meals or wine if you are giving up treats for Lent. On top of that, on Ash Wednesday come those sobering words, ‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return’ with the exhortation ‘turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ’. It is not surprising if some people think Valentine’s day might be more fun.
There is a huge contrast between St Valentine’s day and Ash Wednesday and Lent. Yet when I took time to ponder I saw that it is Lent that is really all about Love as we reflect on the unconditional self-giving love of God for all humankind. This sort of love is for everyone and excludes no one and goes way beyond romantic love. This was the love that brought Jesus to live among us as one of us and took him to the cross and, with the open arms of love, dying for us though we had been disobedient and had turned away from his love.
Lent is the time when we need to face up to those things in our lives that we would rather were kept hidden, but we can do so secure in the love of God, whom we call Father and who longs for us to be his children and this wonderful reality will sustain us longer than any card covered in hearts.
Rev'd Jane Culliford, St Andrew's Church, West Stafford