Next week is Valentine's Day, a fun and busy day in the Marchbanks’ house. It's my husband's birthday, and I still have a fifth grader, which means we are responsible for elementary school valentine boxes and handwritten valentines for each member of his class. Those take time to make. It’s a full holiday.
This year it's even more full with Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday falling on the same day. You can find a beautiful theological reflection about these two holidays written by United Methodist Austin pastor, Abby Parker-Herrera six years ago when this convergence last occured.
The night before Ash Wednesday is another multi-layered holiday. Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is also called Shrove Tuesday. It is a Christian holiday reminding us that Lent is coming, a season of simplicity and focus on Jesus’ journey to the cross.
But first, as we’re stacking theological celebrations and themes, let’s go ahead and eat a short stack! The traditional menu on Shrove Tuesday is pancakes, because pancake recipes use up all the delicious stuff in your pantry before Lenten minimalism begins. (See below for details about our annual Pancake Supper.) Shrove Tuesday celebrations are in stark contrast to the next day, a day dedicated to an ashen symbol on our foreheads claiming that life is fleeting.
But here’s the truth: God is with us in all of it. Ash Wednesday is a reminder that we live a forgiven, hopeful, graceful, Gospel life. It is a reminder that even in the most difficult days we are loved and claimed by Jesus the Christ. It is a day of gratitude as much as it's a day of stark remembrance.
Although all of us are sinful and have fallen short of the glory of God, we are loved. We confess our sin and know that when we fall, we are caught, embraced, and lifted by God’s unconditional love that we call grace. I'm not sure how to put all of this in a valentine or on a conversation heart — I think it's more of a love letter.
As we seal our red and pink valentines, may we also remember that God sets a seal upon our hearts. I'm grateful to move through the many gifts of both Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday with you. We are all loved by God, and that’s something to celebrate.
Rev. Hilary Marchbanks
Saint John’s Senior Pastor