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An Ash Wednesday Valentine

by on February 14, 2018

This homily is based on the lectionary passages for Ash Wednesday.

Lent is a time of reconciliation. In the tradition, it’s when lapsed Christians return to the church, or new Christians prepare to enter the church at Easter. Lent is when people are reconciled to God.

For Paul, reconciliation is salvation. Salvation occurs every time we turn to God, whenever we seek reconciliation. “Salvation is now,” Paul exclaims. It’s something like vacation. Vacation doesn’t begin when we arrive at our destination. Vacation begins when we depart. We’re already on vacation when we’re on our way.

The beginning of this Lenten season of reconciliation is Ash Wednesday, and this year it falls on St. Valentine’s Day. St. Valentine died a martyr in 269. He was found guilty of marrying Christian couples, and helping Christians escape persecution. He ended up being the patron saint of engaged couples, beekeepers, happy marriages, lovers, travelers, young people, and greetings.

The heart is a symbol of Valentine’s Day because it is a symbol of our affection. Affection is motivation with direction. We find something attractive and then we move towards it. Amidst other symbols of our affection, you see a lot of hearts on Valentine’s Day.

The prophet Joel urges us to “return with our whole heart,” with all our affection, to God. This is hard, because by the time we consider God’s invitation our hearts are divided. We have many affections, mixed motivations, and a multitude of directions. We don’t have a whole heart. It isn’t “clean,” which is a synonym of “whole.” Instead our hearts are “broken,” to use words from Psalm 51.

Lent presents us with the question: “Despite our divided, broken heart, do we want to return to the LORD?” Hearing God’s invitation, what is our response? Is there any affection for God left in our lives?

Joel assures us that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. That’s good news for us, because we are not abounding in steadfast love. Ours is not a steadfast love. Lent asks us if we have any love left for God? Do we have any affection? Do we have any motivation with direction?

Psalm 51 says God does not despise a broken heart so long as it is also contrite. The ancient sign of contrition is rending one’s clothes. Tearing one’s clothing served as an outer symbol of inner reality. But you can fool others, you can put on a show by rending your clothes with nothing really going on inside. But you can’t fool Jesus. “Jesus knows the inmost heart, nothing can be hidden.”

This is why Jesus says when giving alms, do so secretly. When praying, do so privately. When fasting, don’t look dismal. Only then do you have some assurance you’re not just rending your clothes. This is what Joel means when he says, “Rend your hearts and not just your clothes.”

If you desire a closer relationship with God, Lent is for you. It is a time of return, a time of reconciliation. It begins by finding more affection for God, more motivation and more direction. G. K. Chesterton said, “Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.” Lent is the time to rekindle your love affair with God.

Invest the time of Lent in your relationship with God. These forty days send the treasure of your affection to heaven, and your heart will follow.

Through Christ, let us return to God with our broken and contrite hearts. Through Christ, let us return to God with our divided and torn hearts. Through Christ, let us return to God with our whole hearts. Amen.

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