Carl's Monthly Message
Our Minister’s Letter
For the second of only three times this century, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day fall on the same day. While there appears no obvious link between these two occasions, their coinciding dates this year raises some interesting thoughts.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, the forty day period (excluding Sundays) leading up to Easter. Forty days was, of course, the length of time Jesus spent alone in the wilderness prior to beginning His public ministry. Many Christian denominations have special Ash Wednesday services to mark the start of the forty day period, excluding Sundays, in which believers engage in self-denial and spiritual reflection.
Today, Valentine’s Day is predominantly a secular event celebrating love but it has its roots in the martyrdom of a third century Roman Christian called Valentine. Although the stories are difficult to verify, it seems that Valentine was a priest and doctor (not uncommon in the distant past) who was imprisoned for defying the emperor’s orders by conducting secret weddings to spare the husbands from war. Whilst in jail, Valentine became friendly with the head jailer, Asterious, who was so impressed with Valentine, and the way he continued to preach love through Jesus, that he asked him to teach his blind daughter, Julia. After some time, the emperor offered Valentine a pardon, if he renounced Christianity. Valentine didn’t just refuse this offer, he used his audience with the emperor to try to convert him to Christianity. Furious, the emperor sentenced Valentine to death. Before his execution, Valentine sent Julia a final note to encourage her to keep the faith, signing it ‘from your Valentine’. Legend tells that Julia’s sight was miraculously restored so that she could read Valentine’s last note herself.
Making the choice to put God’s priorities before those of the world is demonstrated in all three instances: Jesus’ time in the wilderness, the period of self-denial and spiritual reflection that marks Lent, and Valentine’s choices to defy, and attempt to convert, the emperor. Choosing God over the world is not easy, but doing the right thing is not about ease. Jesus warned us that the path of faith would be hard, telling His disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, andt hose who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?’ (Matthew 16:24-26)
But, as the Apostle Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’ (John 6:68)