by Rev. Jerry Kieschnick
Rev. Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick
In the context of Ash Wednesday, we see that God’s treasure and heart . . . are in the same place.
There are two observances this month that may seem to have little to do with each other, but they do, in fact, have something in common. Both deal with matters of the heart.
Feb. 14, of course, is St. Valentine’s Day. It probably should be Saints Valentine—plural—though, because the Roman Catholic Church recognizes a number of saints with that name. Two or three of them (depending on your source) are associated with Feb. 14. What they have in common is that all of them were martyred.
Sending cards, candy, or flowers to your spouse or sweetheart—I’m assuming they are the same person if you are married—doesn’t seem to have much to do with any of these saints. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, these secular customs have more to do with the time of year during which Valentine’s Day is observed. It seems that in England and France during the Middle Ages, there was the belief that halfway through the second month of the year, birds began to seek their mates. So, Feb. 14, St. Valentine’s Day, began to be seen as having some special meaning for lovers.
Even this explanation for associating St. Valentine’s Day with love and lovers is challenged by some scholars. But it’s clear that this holiday is culturally significant in the United States and elsewhere. An estimated 1 billion valentine cards are sent each year. One source says some 85 percent of them are purchased by women! I don’t know if this is true, but in any case . . . men, hello!
Also observed this month—on the 17th—is Ash Wednesday. This is a day, too, on which matters of the heart are very important to believers in Christ. In this case, though, it is God’s heart about which we speak.
The date for Ash Wednesday is determined by the date of Easter, which this year is April 4. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, which lasts 46 days if Sundays are counted. But we don’t count the Sundays, because Sunday is celebrated as the day of Christ’s resurrection. That leaves Lent with 40 days, a reminder of the 40 days our Lord spent in the wilderness, where He was tempted by Satan.
Lent is a time for meditating on the passion of Christ and preparing for the great celebration of Easter. The Lutheran Service Book Agenda tells us that “from ancient times the season of Lent has been kept as a time of special devotion, self-denial, and humble repentance born of a faithful heart that dwells confidently on [God’s] Word and draws from it life and hope.”
More and more Lutheran congregations include the imposition of ashes, an outward sign of inward penitence, during the Ash Wednesday worship service. Generally, the pastor applies the ashes with his thumb to the forehead of each worshiper, making the sign of the cross as he does and saying these words: “Remember: you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
During the penitential season of Lent we are reminded that God bends His heart toward sinful humankind—toward us. He has such compassion and loves us so much that He sent His only begotten Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity, to bear our sin. God restores us to Himself and our hearts bend toward Him in response.
Jesus said that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21).
This is true on many levels. We spend money, for example, on those who are the objects of our “valentine love.” Cards, flowers, or other gifts are tangible ways of expressing our love for sweethearts and spouses, children, and parents.
In the context of Ash Wednesday, we see that God’s treasure and heart also are in the same place. Out of love, He gave everything for us so that we might have everything, including His forgiveness of sins and eternal life with Him. There can be no more profound matter of the heart than this!