Signs of Love
You’ve been seeing them in the stores for weeks, those pink, heart-shaped boxes. We know without even stopping to look at the labels that they’re full of chocolates. Stores stock up on them in January as part of their strategy to boost their mid-winter numbers. As the first post-Christmas consumer holiday, Valentine’s Day has become big business with not only chocolates but a host of other products presented as potential signs of your love and affection for that certain someone.
This might lead one to the jaded perspective that there’s almost nothing that cannot be sold, but I find the Valentines market to be a sign of human hopefulness. We desire to give and receive love. The heart-shaped boxes might be shallow representations of that deeper human need, but the need remains. As Paul declares to the Church at Corinth, love never ends.
This year, there’s a happy collision on the calendar with the coincidence of Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a time of repentance – a spiritual spring cleaning – in preparation for the celebration of Easter. The season of Lent is 40 days long1, a period of time that connects our Lenten observance with the accounts of Noah and the great flood, The People of Israel in the wilderness and Jesus in the desert – all stories of journey, introspection and rescue. Some people do without favorite pleasures during the days of Lent – typically some food or drink – using the money that they save by doing so and giving it to a charitable cause. Lent is also observed as a time of preparation and instruction for those seeking to be baptized in the Christian faith.
The tradition that gives Ash Wednesday its name involves the burning of palm branches from the previous year’s Palm Sunday procession and making the resulting ash into a paste with olive oil. This paste is used to draw a cross on the forehead of individuals as the words “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” are spoken to the person receiving the sign of the cross. This sign is both a sign of our mortality in the substance used to make the mark and rescue in the shape of the mark made. The cross is a reminder of the sacrifice of Jesus, the sacrifice of his own life which led to death’s undoing in his resurrection. The sign is one of death and life at the same time. It is a sign of God’s love for you.
Christians have been using the mark of the cross for centuries as a way of signifying their identity with the death of resurrection of Jesus. We mark the newly baptized with the sign of the cross, we trace the shape of the cross in acts of blessing others, individuals cross themselves to remember their own identity as among the baptized. Early Christian writers interpreted the arms of the cross, extending in four directions, to be symbolic of the breadth, length, height and depth of Jesus’ love for us.
The chocolate-filled heart-shaped boxes are everywhere, signs of our affection for the beloved ones in our lives. To these, I encourage you to consider the ash-borne cross-shaped sign of God’s holy commitment to you. In addition to three worship services on Ash Wednesday, Pastor Char and I will be in several locations on campus, offering ashes for you, even on the go. You can see the full schedule here.
Blessings as you go.
Feb. 14, 2018
Rev. James A. Wetzstein serves as one of our university pastors at Valpo and takes turns writing weekly reflections.
1 The 40 day count doesn’t include the Sundays that occur during the season of Lent because Sundays are always celebrations of the resurrection of Jesus.
- Archives of Devotional Writings from our Pastoral Staff
- “Some Lent!”
- (Your vocation here) of people
- A Point of Privilege
- A season of anticipation
- Advent = Hope
- All will be well
- Are we willing to cross the road for one another?
- Better Together
- Can we learn to be happy?
- Carrying the COVID Cross
- Come and See
- Did Jesus really suffer?
- Doing without in a life of plenty
- Don’t miss this moment
- Exiles with Vision
- Fear not!
- Feeling at Home
- Finding Purpose in the Journey
- Finding Words for Times Like These
- Forgiving others – and ourselves
- Getting ahead with Jesus
- Getting down on Jesus’ level
- Have yourself a merry little Christmas — somehow
- Holy Week and Taking Out the Trash
- Holy Week: The aid station late in the semester
- Hopes & Dreams vs Life in the Wilderness
- How glad we’ll be if it’s so
- I almost slipped
- In a time of uncertainty, these things are certain
- In praise of plans B … C … D …
- In Praise of Skeptical Disciples
- In the midst of grief, God will bring life
- Is there such a thing as being too forgiving?
- It’s a Three Day Weekend!
- It’s In the Bag
- It’s What’s Happening
- Killing off our future selves
- Lessons in fire building
- Let us work for real wellness in our communities
- Life Is a Highway
- Lilies and leaves and whatever else is beautiful
- Living in the Present
- O Lord, you know I hate buttermilk
- Of Fear and Failure
- On Christian Unity: When we’re not one big happy church
- On the Bucket List
- Pray and Let God Worry
- Preparing for the world to be turned rightside up
- Recovering from an Epic Fail
- Reformation calls for examination
- Remembering among the forgetful
- Seeing beauty in brokenness
- Signs of Love
- Starting Small
- Still in the storm
- Taking a Break from the Relentless
- Talking ourselves into it
- Thankfulness leads to joyfulness
- The Art of Holy Week
- The Funny Business of Forgiveness
- The Greatest of These is Love
- The Magi: Exemplars of Faith and Learning
- The Power of Small Conversations
- The Power of Taking a Sabbath
- The Spiritual Gift of Hindsight
- This can’t be done alone
- To be known
- You will be in our prayers this summer of 2020
- Ventures of which we cannot see the ending
- We had hoped
- What do you do with your anger?
- What is your base reality?
- What to do after you find your voice
- What to do on the day after
- What we know and what we don’t know
- When bad things happen
- When joy and sadness live together
- When the promise of resurrection is hard to believe
- When you offer up your broken cup
- Where God will be found
- Where is the good shepherd carrying you?
- Wilderness Journeys
- Year-end time management: Keeping the main thing the main thing
- Your Valpo roots will help you grow into your future