Valentine’s Day fell on February 14 again this year. It’s regular like that.
Ash Wednesday, on the other hand, moves around. It doesn’t mean to, but its date depends on the date of Easter, which can fall anywhere between March 22 and April 25. So Ash Wednesday, which occurs forty days before Easter (not counting Sundays) falls between February 4 and March 10.
Ash Wednesday is on Wednesday, February 17 this year.
I offer the following observations in light of the closeness on this year’s calendar of Valentine’s Day, which celebrates human love, and Ash Wednesday, which reminds us of our mortality.
Let me define my terms. In the statements below, “mortal” means “human” and “love” means having attitudes and carrying out actions that are other-affirming, other-focused, self-emptying, and self-giving.
To be mortal is to be temporary, which makes love valuable. We are on the earth for just a little while, so we get to love each other in these fantastic earthly ways for just a little while. When we know the time will come when we won’t have something, it becomes much more valuable to us. Life is that way. Love is that way. So we should treat our beloved ones with the honor befitting their value.
To be mortal is to be frail, which makes love graceful. To be mortal is to be breakable. We get hurt, sometimes in our bodies, sometimes in our minds, sometimes in our hearts, and sometimes in our spirits. Sometimes we hurt those we love by not taking our commitments seriously or by not embracing our relationships enthusiastically. At such times (at all times really, but especially at such times), love saves us by its grace. By “graceful” love I mean love that is full of grace, which is the ability and willingness to accept each other in our frailty and to lift each other up when we fall.
To be mortal is to be dying, which makes love lively. Each passing moment brings us a moment closer to death, so we want to live lives that are as full of purpose and meaning as possible. Love contributes to such fullness. By “lively” love I mean love that is life-giving and life-enhancing. If love becomes stronger as our bodies become weaker, we become more alive even as we move toward death.
On Ash Wednesday, we remember that we are mortal. On Valentine’s Day, we remember that we love and are loved. Mortality and love make a wonderfully risky combination. If we embrace that combination fully, we’ll be alive for as long as we live.
Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara, grandfather to Sullivan and Isabella. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.