Illustration Credit: Timothy R. Butler

Repentance is a Love Letter from God

By Timothy R. Butler | Posted at 4:27 PM

Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day collide this year. The combination feels bizarre: a day associated with fancy meals and rich desserts has been forced to share a table with one that focuses on our failures. Yet a common thread weaves between: love.

The origins of Valentine’s Day are steeped in Medieval gathering of stories said to be about early Christian saints, amongst other things. The day has become many things, but whatever mixture of truth and fanciful reinterpretations created the modern day, the day has become the celebration of human love.

Ash Wednesday, in contrast, is a time to mourn our sin and to face that our lives are passing moments with death inevitably looming. As we receive ashes, we hear, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

We might think, “How unfortunate two days so opposite should fall on the same date” and look forward to the next few years when they won’t. Ash Wednesday, though, is even more about love than Valentine’s Day.

As we focus on our frailty and failure, we do not stop there. The point of facing sin and death, the point of putting ash on our foreheads before God is not to conclude life is a tragedy. The story doesn’t end there.

Ash Wednesday is situated 46 days before Easter. Forty because of its significance as a time of preparation in the Bible, be it the forty years in the wilderness for the Israelites after their rebellion against God or the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness ahead of His earthly ministry. Six more because we pause each week to celebrate Jesus’s resurrection, the miracle of Easter, every week of the year, including during the six weeks of Lent.

As Lent goes on, the times of reflection and sorrow receive that weekly heartbeat of God’s love being preached because nothing can stop that good news. After the building anticipation of the season, it gives way to our fullest yearly remembrance of love, Jesus’s death and resurrection for us, at Easter.

We sin, we fail, we die. We know that’s inevitable, right? God cleanses, God restores, God brings to life. That’s even more sure. The entirety of the Bible with God’s people constantly turning from Him and yet God lovingly bringing them back is a love letter to His creation, an invitation to understand that the One who made everything loves us.

However short I measure, however far you realize you are from what you wish you were (much less what all of us really should be), God offers one way to measure up. We can receive His love by trusting in Jesus, the only one to measure up. Grace.

Even the fact that we have love we share between us as humanity testifies to that. We love so imperfectly compared to God, yet the fact that we can love each other is a gift from Him. He does not leave us isolated from other people and as we see that, we get a taste of something even deeper: He doesn’t leave us isolated from Him either.

God does not require us to earn His love. The ash of Ash Wednesday doesn’t serve as a good deed to shout “Look how humble I am, now God will love me!” No, it is a moment to reflect on how we don’t deserve to be loved by anyone, much less God, yet He does love us. Repentance invites us afresh to pick up the love letter of God’s care for us.

He loves us without us having everything right and He loves us enough to invite us into moments like this day so that in asking His forgiveness for our failures, we can experience His Spirit helping us to move more to what we were truly meant to be.

Ash Wednesday’s real message isn’t about how bad we are, but how loving God is. As we turn from our sin to Jesus’s love, it is a day to celebrate divine love.

How perfect, then, this combination. Today, we celebrate the love we share imperfectly here on earth as we rejoice in perfect love of the Heavenly Father.

Timothy R. Butler is Editor-in-Chief of Open for Business. He also serves as a pastor at Little Hills Church and FaithTree Christian Fellowship.

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