God’s Love for our Very Human Self

February is Black History Month, which I wrote about in this month’s Wisconsin Baptist. This is also a unique February in 2024 because it is a leap year giving us one extra day this month. To make it even more special, because of how the liturgical calendar is calculated, Ash Wednesday is very early this year: on February 14th. Most of us do remember that it’s Valentine’s Day. The stores make it hard for us to miss it, with all the chocolates and flowers and red and pink cards.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, 40 days (not counting Sundays) until Easter. It reminds us of the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness, facing temptation (Mark 1:12-13; Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). Lent is a season of repentance, which means “turning back to God.” It is a recognition of our need of salvation as we journey to the cross with Jesus. Ash Wednesday specifically reminds us of our own mortality. All of us are human beings, created from the dust of the earth (and if you want to get into astrophysics, the dust of stars, the dust of all of creation of the universe), and all of us will die. All of us will return to dust. Through the love of God, who loves us so much he sent us Jesus so that we might have everlasting life and be saved (John 3:16-17), we know that death will not separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39).

Nonetheless, we are marked with ashes, a symbol of mourning and repentance, a reminder of our own fragility that without God, we are nothing. Without God, the dust and ash of the universe would not have created this beautiful and amazing Earth that we and all of creation live upon. Without God, we can do nothing. Lent is a time when we remember and turn back.

I once had a church member argue “there’s nothing in the Bible about Lent or Ash Wednesday.” And they were right—there isn’t. However, Job, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Jonah all mention the wearing of ashes as a sign of repentance, one practiced by our ancestors of the faith. The early church created these observances of Lent so we would remember. Every year, we take this time to remember what God has done for us and how without God, we are nothing. Sometimes people choose to fast in this time from certain things. Others choose to take up a new devotional or prayer practice. As this video shares, Lent is a “spring cleaning” of our spiritual lives.

Baptists do not always follow the liturgical calendar and the seasons, but many of us have found them meaningful practices so we don’t lose sight of the Christian story, and specifically the practices surrounding repentance as a reminder that we need to turn back to God. We are tempted away from God’s ways by this world we human beings have created: the systems and structures of wealth and power and worldly measures of success. Lent reminds us that it is all meaningless, dust and ashes, when it comes to the eternal reign of Christ. We do not put our trust in the powers of this world; we put our trust in God alone.

This Valentine’s Day you may be making or buying cards, or getting flowers or chocolate as you have in other years. This particular year, perhaps you might hold an Ash Wednesday service or attend one (visiting a church of another denomination can help us appreciate both the practices of other traditions as well as our own unique ways of observing sacred times and drawing closer to God). Remember, as the ashes are placed on your head, how much God loves you, that God was willing to become human like us, to become the same dust and ashes, and to die as one of us. And because of God’s great love, Christ rose for us, and we all have the same promise of eternal life. The ashes are a promise that death does not have a final word for those who know God’s love in Christ Jesus. Remember this. Repent. And know how much God loves you this Valentine’s Day.

 

Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell

Executive Minister

Posted in News, Staff Articles.