For the first time in my lifetime, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day are on the same day. It hasn’t happened since 1945. What’s the big deal? In some ways, both days are a reminder to recommit to the God we love and the people we love. We will try to do just that this year with our “Say Yes Again!” service.

In the service, we will have a liturgy designed for husbands and wives to reaffirm their marriage vows:

In the name of God, I (name),
take you, (name),
to be my (relationship),
To have and to hold
From this day forward
For better, for worse,
For richer, for poorer,
In sickness and in health,
To love and to cherish,
Until we are parted by death.
This is my solemn vow.” 

At most, these words repeated after the minister take 45 seconds per participant, but they take our best efforts and our entire lives to fulfill. No one lives them out fully or perfectly! No one.

Maybe we could be more honest or simply provide more detail about what real relationships require.

In the name of God, I will be for you and stay with you and encourage you even when I don’t like you and am not attracted to you. I will be home when I say I’ll be home. I’ll clean up the puke in the hallway from our third kid with the stomach bug even though I’ll puke too. I’ll wait up for the teenager who has missed curfew again even though I’ve got a 6 a.m. flight. I’ll sit with you and pray for you and take a second job after we find out you’ve been laid-off. I’ll drive you to chemo. I’ll love you and be there for you even if you no longer remember my name. I’m committed to you until I’m dead. God help me. Church help me. There’s no way anyone could ever pull this off alone.”

So, maybe Ash Wednesday, with its focus on the cost of true love as represented in the cross, is not such a bad way to celebrate Valentine’s Day after all. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. Lent is the forty-day season leading up to Easter. If you count all the days, there are more than forty, but every Sunday is a mini-Easter or celebration day. If you were on a diet, you would call Sunday your “cheat day.” No mourning or being sad-sacks on resurrection days – the hope of the world!

Ash Wednesday at Acts UMC

After the exchange of vows in the Ash Wednesday service, we will make vows to God to try again. Fortunately, unlike mortal relationships, God is always loving, forgiving, full of mercy and grace to all His children. With God, there is always a second chance, or millionth chance. There is no place we can go where God has not been. There is no sin so grave beyond the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ the Savior of the world.

So, with all the Christians who have gone before us, we get real and remember, “From dust you were created and to dust you shall return.” This reminder, with the mark of the cross on our foreheads with ashes, begins the journey anew with Christ and his love, his teaching, Palm Sunday, passion week and Easter.

The haunting children’s song of “Ring Around the Rosie” is true. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down. We need a second chance. I hope you will come and thank God with me that in Jesus we all get a second chance and need one another each day.

Ash Wednesday at Acts UMC

If you would like to know more about our 2018 journey to Easter, I hope you will participate in our Lenten sermon series, “Fixer Upper” as in “we all are.” Each week leading to Easter, we will look at an aspect of being made new.

Dr. Mark Foster

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