Did you know that LENT starts on the same day as VALENTINE’S DAY this year? On February 14th 2024 these two observances couldn’t look further apart. Lent is meant to be a time to discipline the flesh and control our appetites whereas VALENTINE’S DAY is a day to indulge and express them; often with gifts, chocolates and flowers!
The name ‘Lent’ comes from an old word meaning lengthen as it takes place during the early springtime when the days get longer. It’s a time of increasing light and hope ending in the celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus at Easter.
The 40 days of fasting over Lent are to commemorate (and imitate) Jesus’ 40 days of fasting and temptations in the wilderness. For those strictly observing Lent it’s not great timing… that big heart-shaped box of chocolates may just have to wait!
The period of time from Ash Wednesday to Easter Saturday is actually 46 days. So the way it works as 40 days is to either:
- Don’t include Sundays or
- Fast every day until (and including) Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter and the beginning of ‘Holy Week’).
HAPPY ASH WEDNESDAY!
I’d like to propose (no pun intended!) that perhaps there’s more of a connection between Valentine’s Day and Lent than meets the eye.
“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Matthew 4:1
When Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit it was an act of love and devotion that took him there. But just to be clear – there are many types of love and while Valentine’s Day celebrates EROS LOVE (romantic, lustful, passionate love)*, Jesus is responding to the Holy Spirit with AGAPE LOVE – a selfless, divine love that Jesus embodied in his life, death and resurrection.
*Although in some countries like the United States the Valentines tradition has evolved to also include family (Greek ‘STORGE’ – familial love) and friends (Greek ‘PHILIA’ – affectionate friendship).
FEASTING WHILE FASTING
When we consider the idea of the spiritual disciplines it’s natural to focus on the negatives – all that good stuff I have to give up! But when Jesus fasted in the wilderness he said he was feasting in a different way.
When tempted by the devil to ‘turn these stones into bread’ Jesus replied that, although his body needed physical bread, his life was sustained by the word of God.
But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ” Matthew 4:4 KJV
The ‘every word’ here is the Greek word RHEMA – which literally means ‘utterance’ or ‘thing being said’. So though he was abstaining from physical food Jesus was being edified by his heavenly Father’s ever present, life-giving words.
In the second and third temptations Jesus demonstrated he was also deeply anchored in his heavenly Fathers’ love and acceptance and refused to test it or bow the knee to any other god. (See Matthew 4 and Luke 4).
We might initially think that Jesus was the victim in these trials and temptations – but truly – when Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit he was the protagonist in these conflicts. Jesus was the one moving in on the devil’s territory and his temptations in the wilderness were preparing him for the years of power-packed, public ministry to follow (miracles of healing, deliverance, provision and raising the dead).
That’s one of the fruits of the devotional disciplines – if done rightly they can edify and strengthen us spiritually and therefore enlarge our capacity to be used by God.