Preached on 14 February 2018 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
Happy Valentine’s Day. The last time Ash Wednesday fell on Valentine’s Day was in 1945. Did you look at the calendar this year and say, “you’ve got to be kidding!?” I know I got a bit of a laugh – especially because Easter Day falls on April Fools Day. But you know, when you think about it, it seems quite fitting that Lent begins on a day devoted to love. Because, you see, the heart of Lent, in fact, its very foundation is Love.
Now Valentine’s day is sometimes called a made-up holiday or a Hallmark holiday; that it’s all about the commercialization – flowers, candy, fancy dinners, and expensive dates. Yes, the marketplace has certainly turned a profit on this holiday, but there’s more to it than that.
Think about some of your earliest Valentine’s Days and what you may have learned about love. I’m pretty sure my first valentines were from my mom: something tangible that I could touch and read and go back to and read again at those times when I might feel unlovable. For as long as she could, Mom always sent us a valentine. And I send them to my kids, too.
Then came the school parties, when we had to give a valentine to everyone or no one. I don’t know if it sinks in at the time, but it may be a first experience of “you don’t have to like someone to love them. You can choose to be kind instead of cruel.”
When God commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves, it’s not about what we feel, and it’s not about liking everybody. It’s about what we do; how we behave toward them. It’s about ensuring they have what they need to survive, to live.
Love is more than an emotion. Love is about relationship and relationships need attention and nurturing and even sacrifice, sometimes. Love is tangible.
Lent is about Love; God’s love for us and God’s desire for us to be in right relationship with God. Its foundation is God’s tangible, sacrificial love for us through Jesus Christ. It is because of God’s steadfast love for us; because of the assurance of God’s compassion, mercy, and forgiveness that we enter this holy work of relationship with God.
In a few minutes, we will be invited to the observance of a Holy Lent through self-examination and repentance, prayer, fasting and self-denial, and reading and meditating on Scripture.
I would like to go a little deeper on a few of these practices, beginning with repentance. Repentance is what it’s all about. Turning away from that which is life-draining and toward what is life-giving, returning to right relationship with God and one another. And in order to do that, we have to do some honest reflection on our lives not only individually, but as the various communities and groups we are a part of.
For example, how does Ascension love (or harm) our neighbor? How do the policies of our local and state governments love our neighbors or not? What about as a nation and how we treat all people?
Finally, a bit about Fasting. One way to think of fasting is that we fast in order to feel uncomfortable; to miss things that matter to us. Fasting can help us discover what may be more important to us than God.
Another way to think of fasting is as a form of repentance – turning away from those things which drain our lives or distract us from what is truly important and turn toward and embrace that which gives life.
We heard the prophet, Isaiah, speak to the people of Israel, Is this the fast that I choose…? To fast only to fight; to lie in sackcloth and ashes; to pretend to be humble?
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to free the oppressed, to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; to cover the naked, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
What might you choose as your fast this Lent?
See if any of these resonate with you:
Fast from social media, from complaining, from worrying, from comfort or privilege, from the need to be right, from busyness. Fast from bitterness, anger, envy, resentment, despair, self-pity.
What might you choose to embrace? For example:
Embrace time and conversation with your family and friends.
Embrace volunteering at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter, or donating blood.
Embrace activism against injustice.
Embrace gratitude, generosity, hope, joy, patience, forgiving others, reconciliation, compassion, kindness.
Embrace silence, simplicity, stillness.
Embrace movement, activity, your marvelous body.
Embrace listening – to the rain, to birds singing, to children laughing, to people talking, to music, to God.
Embrace rest and sleep; embrace Sabbath.
How might you share what you embrace with others?
In the 16th century, Bishop Bellarmine wrote,
If the body goes without food or drink for even one day, it immediately weeps and lets out a roar, and there is a great rush to bring it help. But the soul fasts for whole weeks from its food, or languishes under the wounds received, or even lies dead, and no one takes care of it or shows it pity. Visit your soul more and more often.
This holy season, may you frequently visit and tenderly care your soul.
Happy Valentine’s Day.