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Sunday, February 17, 2013

ash wednesday and valentine's day

I'm not sure how often it happens, in fact maybe it has happened a few times before and I was just not paying attention (which wouldn't be terribly surprising knowing myself the way I do), but Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day being back to back this year caught me more than a little off guard.  I mean there you are on Wednesday having ashes placed upon your forehead and reading scripture (Joel 2:12-14) that invites you to return to the Lord with all our heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.  And then to rend your heart and not your garments...heaviness, sadness, mourning, sorrow, weeping, contrition, desperation, etc.  Then comes Thursday and you are sitting across the table from the one you love and adore in an incredibly romantic restaurant, filled to overflowing with affection as you celebrate the life and the love that you are so privileged to share with each other.  A bit of a contrast wouldn't you say?  Weeping one day and filled with affection the next.  A pretty odd pairing to say the least; or so it would seem.  Maybe, however, it's not so odd after all.

In the last couple of weeks I have been captured by a gospel passage that brings these strange bedfellows together.  And one, therefore, that has really given me a great picture of what the season ahead (Lent) is really supposed to be.  It is the story of the woman in Luke 7:36-50 that comes to Jesus while he is dining in the home of Simon the Pharisee.  She is not named, but everyone knows who she is.  In fact, she has quite a reputation in town; it would seem her reputation has even become her identity.  That is until she meets Jesus.  We're are not told exactly when or how that happened, but somewhere along the road these two had met before and it had changed everything about her.  And now here she is, on this particular evening, entering a house that she had no business entering.  In fact she shouldn't have been there at all; I mean a woman "like her" just didn't barge into the house of a Pharisee, especially when he was entertaining.  He had invited Jesus to dine with him, and a bunch of his Pharisee buddies as well I'm sure, so they could all get an up close look at this man that everyone was talking about.  Whether it was curiosity or hostility that inspired the invitation we are not sure; although we can probably guess.  All we are sure of is that he had invited Jesus to his house, and he and his other guests were reclining at the table.

And it is in the midst of this "dinner party" that she comes; uninvited and uncaring that she is uninvited.  She didn't care about protocol.  She didn't care about political correctness.  She didn't care what anyone thought or said.  All she cared about was getting to the feet of her beloved Jesus.  She only had eyes for Him.  So she enters the room and doesn't look back, making a beeline straight for His feet.  And when she gets there she does the most amazing combination of things: she stood behind him at his feet weeping, and began to wet his feet with her tears.  Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them (Luke 7:38).  Did you catch that?  She was weeping and she was kissing; sorrow and affection, Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day.  Two things which seem contrary, but are actually inseparable.  It is the gospel brought to life; two things that always must be connected in this life of faith.  You see the gospel is so much more than one or the other, it must always be both.

There is always a weeping that is such a necessary part of the picture.  It involves a deep recognition of our utter sinfulness, brokenness, helplessness, and desperation.  It is what happens within us when we come face to face with the absolute horror of our sin, which crucified ChristAnd weeping is much more than simply crying; it is an activity that is deeply redemptiveIt involves a deep recognition and a deep healing.  These were not normal tears, they came from somewhere deep within; from that place of godly sorrow that Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 7:10.  The godly sorrow that leads to repentance.  But as necessary as the weeping is, we can't stop there.  There is more.

That's where the kissing comes in.  For not only did she weep, but she kissed.  As a matter of fact the literal translation of the Greek is that she kissed (his feet) much.  She smothered him with kisses.  She could not stop.  She just went on and on.  Just look at verse 45: this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet.  His love for her had completely captured her heart.  It had kindled an uncontrollable affection deep within her that simply could not be contained.  She could not stop if she wanted to, so smitten with love for Him was she.  This is the part that we usually miss during Lent, but it is a part that really cannot (or should not) be separated from the fasting and the mourning and the weeping.  We must always be kissing Him as well; and kissing Him much at that.  Which begs the questions: Are we completely captured by His love?  Does a deep affection for Him well up from the core of our being?  Are we showering Him with our kisses?  Are we falling more and more deeply in love with Jesus each and every day?

So maybe Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day are not such an odd couple after all.  Maybe they are two beautiful parts of an unspeakably beautiful gospel.  And maybe, just maybe, I'll decide to celebrate them together every year.

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