Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday fall on the same date this year. But what do a commercialised day celebrating romance and a period of religious fasting have in common? A surprising amount, suggests Andrew Bunt


Source: Alamy

This year, Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday – the first day of Lent – fall on the same date. That’s a pretty unusual occurrence – it happened in 2018, and it happens this year, but the only other time it will happen between now the end of this century is in 2029.

You might think that Valentine’s Day and the start of Lent are a peculiar combination, two significant dates that are unrelated and have little to say to each other. But I think they may actually be a better pairing than we would first assume.

The greatest love

Valentine’s Day has become a day to celebrate your ‘one’ – your significant other and the commitment you share. It’s a celebration of the love that can be enjoyed between two people.

Lent is a time to remember The One – the significant other of the human race; the God who came in the person of Jesus to display to the world the greatest love there is. It’s a time to remember the greatest demonstration of love there has even been.

Temptation is an invitation to a destination that won’t deliver what it promises

God has designed our experience of human love as a signpost to his perfect love and the relationship we can have with him. As a guy who is single, Valentine’s Day could remind me of what I don’t have – a romantic and sexual relationship. But paired with Lent, it can become a reminder of what I do have – a relationship with the God who is love.

I probably won’t get sent a Valentine’s Day card this year, but that’s OK. I’m not missing out on anything I need; I’m just missing out on the signpost. The love I truly need is available to me – and to all of us – because the Father sent the Son, the Son was obedient and together they have given us the Spirit.

A better invitation

Lent is traditionally a time when Christians remember Christ’s temptation in the wilderness. For 40 days, Jesus was tempted by the devil. Each temptation was an invitation to experience something that looked good by stepping outside of God’s will and God’s ways. But Jesus wasn’t fooled. He knew that each of those invitations was a trap – though they promised much, they would never deliver.

There’s a lesson for us there. Each of us is regularly tempted to believe that we might find something good by stepping outside of God’s will and ways. Temptation is an invitation, but it’s an invitation to a destination that won’t deliver what it promises.

God has designed our experience of human love as a signpost to his perfect love

When it comes to love and relationships, there are lots of ways we can be tempted to step outside of God’s will and ways. It might be to give up on a spouse to whom we’ve committed ourselves for life. It might be to pursue a relationship with someone who isn’t our spouse. It might be to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage.

It might be to pursue a relationship with someone of the same sex – a relationship that doesn’t follow God’s plan for human relationships that reflect his relationship with us as a union of difference. It might just be to believe that a human can fulfil us, meet all our needs and give us all the love and acceptance we’re looking for.

When those temptations come – as they might for many this Valentine’s Day – Lent offers us a helpful reminder. As much as the world, the flesh and the devil might tell us differently, we will never experience true goodness outside of God’s will and ways.

The big question

So maybe the big question today isn’t whether we’re married or single. Both are good gifts from God, both are ways we can honour him and contexts in which we can enjoy the fullness of life he offers us. Maybe the question is whether we’re allowing any experience of human love to point us beyond itself to the greater love revealed in and through Christ.

And maybe the question isn’t how can we have the perfect Valentine’s Day, but how can we live within God’s will and God’s ways, knowing that it is there we will find true goodness and experience our best life.