Lent and Love || Jill McFadden

Posted on February 9th, by Jill Zimmerman McFadden in Heart, Unitive Sessions: Love. 4 comments

Lent and Love || Jill McFadden

This year Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day fortuitously fall in the same week.  So, if you haven’t come up with that perfect Valentine’s date idea yet, you’re in luck:  Just go out a night early and take that special someone to a service where you get oily ashes smeared on your forehead and told how sinful you are and how short your life is.  Sounds romantic, no?

No?

This post may not convince you to make a date out of Ash Wednesday, but it hopefully will spark some reflection on the easily overlooked ‘Valentine-esque’ qualities of Ash Wednesday.

When you think about it, Lent and Love have quite a lot in common. 

The Church has been celebrating Lent (and its kick-off, Ash Wednesday) since about the fourth century.  Even way back then, the church understood how easy it was to go on with our day-to-day lives busily and unthinkingly, forgetful of our need for a savior.  They wanted to build into the rhythm of the Christian life a regular, intentional focus on repentance and renewal.  So, the Lenten season eventually emerged – a focused time of reflection and fasting encompassing the 40 days leading up Easter.  It’s forty days designed to help the Christ follower celebrate Easter well by remembering daily our deep need of Christ’s love, rescue, and unstoppable life.

Today, it’s easy to let words like repentance and fasting, ashes and Lent conjure up mental images of hermits in caves, monks holed away in monasteries, or that creepy pale guy in the Da Vinci Code movie.  But we’d be more on target, I think, if we trained our imaginations to move easily from repentance or fasting to images of love and new life—like a seed sprouting out of fertile soil, or rain on parched ground, or a parent patiently pursuing an estranged child.

At an Ash Wednesday service, you’re going to hear a lot about the brevity of human life, the sinfulness of the human heart, and the need for daily repentance.  But the overarching message?  The deep, deep love of God.  You see, Christians never repent or fast or think about our sin “just because” – it is always already a response to the initiating, grace-filled love of God.  The prophet Joel puts it this way:

Don’t tear your clothing in your grief,
but tear your hearts instead.
Return to the LORD your God,
for he is merciful and compassionate,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
He is eager to relent and not punish.    Joel 2:13

So repent.  Cry out because of your sin.  Tear open your very heart as you confess it.  Our sin is a really big deal that we usually take too lightly.   But why turn from our sin and re-turn to the Lord?  Because he is always and already a merciful, compassionate, full-of-love sort of God.  We confess our sin because He is forgiving.  We lament our lack of love because He is overflowing with it.

God loves us.  He doesn’t forget that we’re feeble, frail, and forgetful sinners.  So we come to him in confession, again..  and again.. and again.  Asking him to forgive us and to change us.  Knowing that he has forgiven us, and is changing us, and will complete the good work he has started.

So this Lent, think about setting aside a little space every day to consider your need of a savior and to confess your sin.  But remember that you are confessing not to some divine disciplinarian, but to a God who is full of unfailing love.  Confession and repentance are ways to experience that love more deeply, and to be made into the type of person that can extend that love to the world.

So go ahead…  make a date of it!

Jesus! what a Friend for sinners!
Jesus! Lover of my soul;
Friends may fail me, foes assail me,
He, my Savior, makes me whole.

Jesus! what a Strength in weakness!
Let me hide myself in Him.
Tempted, tried, and sometimes failing,
He, my Strength, my victory wins.

Hallelujah! what a Savior!
Hallelujah! what a Friend!
Saving, helping, keeping, loving,
He is with me to the end.

Words by J. Wilbur Chapman, 1910.  Listen to the hymn. 


Jill Zimmerman McFadden Jill McFadden is married to Ian, directs worship and arts at Central Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, and plays in the folk acoustic trio Ordinary Time. She studied Christianity and the Arts at Regent College.
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4 Responses to “Lent and Love || Jill McFadden”

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