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Hearts and ashes

Today I gave out ashes instead of blessings. It's both Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day, an overlap that hasn't happened in over 70 years. There is tension in trying to observe both days in the spirits in which they are intended. Penitence and fasting on one hand, decadence and celebration on the other. Yet there is also something very fitting about their coming together.

This afternoon, two ladies came into my church after they got off work. They were both wearing red, and they asked if I could give them ashes in the sign of a cross and in the shape of a heart. Fortunately they weren't serious, and we all had a good laugh. But the sentiment expressed was more on point than they realized.

Along the lines of Valentine's Day, the most popular biblical text used in weddings is from 1 Corinthians 13: "Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.... It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends." So beautiful. So lovely. It's easy to see why this passage of scripture works well for a wedding.

Interestingly enough, it works even better for a funeral. The Apostle Paul wasn’t writing about romantic love in 1 Corinthians 13. He was writing about God’s love. Specifically God’s love made manifest in Jesus Christ. This perfect love meets us when we die.

This perfect love also meets us when we repent. We need not ever think of our sin and our finitude apart from God's love, grace and forgiveness. That is the essence of the Good News. Just like those ladies who asked for an ashen heart, we can engage in sober reflection while also embracing a quiet joy. For our sinfulness, our brokenness, and our mortality will always be met with God's love.