This year Ash Wednesday falls on February 14, a day more commonly celebrated as Valentines Day. I haven’t celebrated Valentines Day since I was in school, but I observe Ash Wednesday every year. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent: a time of repentance and preparation for Easter.
Although these two days may, at first, appear opposites of each other, it seems to me they are a natural pairing. God showed his great love for us by sending Jesus. Jesus showed his love for us by dying on a cross. We show our love for our wonderful savior by turning away from our sins and falling in love with Jesus all over again.
The symbol of Ash Wednesday might as well be a heart. Not a red or pink heart with lace and chocolates and flowers. But a heart broken by sin and healed with Christ’s love. A heart filled with sorrow for the times we have rejected God or betrayed Jesus. A heart covered with ashes that symbolize our repentance and desire to return – whole-hearted – to a right relationship with God.
The symbol of Ash Wednesday is a cross of ashes on the forehead. I think, if I were still doing the imposition of ashes, I would be tempted to draw some hearts on foreheads this year. But really, the cross and the heart are the same symbol when you think about love. We usually associate hearts with human love, but God’s heart is so great he can love all of us. He loves us unconditionally no matter what we do or how perfectly or imperfectly we follow him. He loves all of us without preference. We cannot be more loved by God.
Our love is imperfect. Human love for others is tied to our feelings. Our love has stops and starts. But God’s love never ends. So the cross is as much a symbol of God’s love for us as any heart could be. The cross shows the lengths to which God will go to woo us to him. I’m reminded of the old saying, “I asked Jesus, “How much do you love me?” He said, “This much.” and stretched out His hands and died.”
Jesus loves you. The cross proves it. And every year, in repentance on Ash Wednesday, we have a chance to show him that we are thankful and we return his love.
Psalm 73:26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
1 John 4:9-11 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.