In one of those calendary coincidences that happen from time to time, Ash Wednesday coincides with Valentine’s Day this year. Part of me thinks that this is unfortunate. (“Attendance might be lower than usual at this year’s Ash Wednesday service,” I think to myself.) But the better part of me thinks that this is great because the day that the world celebrates romantic love is the kickoff to the season during which the Christian Church celebrates that the King of Love showed us what true love is really like.
Romantic love is held up by the world as the epitome of love, but it is actually only the trailer that God uses to get us interested in the movie that true love can be between two people who share it. It’s not flashy or seductive. You wouldn’t sell much chewing gum/cars/records using true love as the draw. But it is real. Ask any mother. The true love that carries a fevered infant through a sleepless night is self-less, sacrificial and self-giving.
We love romantic love because it feels good. But what we need is a true love that makes us good. And this is the love that the King of Love has for you.
In his hymn My Song is Love Unknown, Samuel Crossman writes:
My song is love unknown,
My Saviour’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown
That they might lovely be.
O who am I,
That for my sake
My Lord should take
Frail flesh and die?
Who am I indeed? I am nobody. But I am loved by the King of Love, therefore I am somebody, I am his beloved.
The love that God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit has for us is so amazing that we cannot really believe that it is true. We kind of half-believe it. Because, we think to ourselves, if it were really true, the guilty would get off scot-free and the real sinners (think tax collectors and prostitutes) would get into heaven ahead of all the good, upstanding citizens of the world.
That’s exactly right! And that’s exactly what happens! Dear friends, the Good News is that you and I are the tax collectors and the prostitutes whose sin is so obvious that there is no point in hiding our shame. And it is this, our shameless openness to the King of Love, that enables us to receive his loving embrace of unconditional acceptance, forgiveness and restoration. It’s our innate tendency to try to be “good” that stiff-arms the Saviour who seeks to wrap his arms of love around us. Only when we stop trying to save ourselves and drop any pretense of anything good within us does Jesus’ soul-cleansing love wash over us.
So everyday is Valentine’s Day when we rest in the Saviour’s embrace.
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10)