A Fusion of Festivals
I recall one of our pre-school children saying at Easter, as we told the story of Jesus dying on the cross…”But he’s only just been born!” Even for us more mature church-goers we seem to be thrown into Lent unusually early this year. Perhaps it is a reminder that this baby in a manger was born to die on the cross. In one Christian hymn by D.T.Niles of Sri Lanka there is the line, “Christmas shines with Easter glory.” I wonder how many of you spotted the cross within the Christmas Tree on this year’s Benefice Christmas Card. Some churches and cathedrals even make their stripped Christmas trees into the Good Friday cross.
In 2024 we are faced with another puzzling coincidence, Ash Wednesday falls on 14th February, Valentine’s Day. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday when many Christians receive a small cross of ash (Traditionally made from last years Palm crosses) on their foreheads as a reminder of the dust from which we were made and to which we return. In our scientific world we no longer think of God shaping soil into a person and breathing life into him (Genesis 2), but we know well that we are made or organic molecules which break down and return to the environment on our demise.
St Valentine was a 3rd Century Priest or Bishop martyred in Rome under Emperor Claudius. Nobody knows why his feast day is associated with lovers, apart from the Medieval tradition, recorded in Chaucer, that birds paired on this day in Spring. However, it is more likely derived from the pagan festival of Lupercalia, held in ancient Rome from 13-15th February to promote health and fertility. Sacrifices were offered to purify the city and rituals performed to celebrate love.
As we receive our ashes, a reminder of our human frailty and mortality, they are given as a
cross, the symbol and centre of our faith in a God who ‘loved the world so much, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may NOT perish, but have eternal life.’ (John 3 v.16). Jesus was that sacrifice which purified the city and brought spiritual health and well-being or Shalom. He started a movement of people devoted to love and reconciliation ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.’ (John 15 v.12).
This congruence of dates brings much food for thought…perhaps this leap year we should receive ash hearts on our foreheads instead of crosses!
Rev Becky (January 19th 2024)