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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Love is stronger than death

This year February 14 is both Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday
 - reminders of both Love and Death. 

On Valentine's Day we think about those we love most (or those whom we think love us most!) I'm actually opposed to the commercialisation of Valentine's Day. The "Hallmark Cards, chocolates and roses" expectations can put a lot of pressure on many people, I'm sure. And those who give and receive none of the above can feel left out, unloved and forgotten. The whole dynamic is full of pitfalls - and  if you look up the history of Valentine's Day you might be surprised how closely love and death were intertwined. It certainly wasn't about chocolates and roses! (I hasten to add that I'm not in any way opposed to expressions of love whenever they may be genuine and appropriate!)

So - what about Ash Wednesday? This is the Wednesday at the beginning of Lent. The weeks of Lent are designed to help us walk with Jesus towards Easter when Jesus was crucified and buried on Good Friday and rose again on Easter Sunday. In an Ash Wednesday service each person is offered the chance to have a cross made of ashes drawn on their forehead as the priest or minister says: "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return." This is a sober reminder of our impending death - however close or far away that might be.

It seems to me that having Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday on the same day this year is an appropriate synchronicity. Two things have come to mind as I have reflected on it. First the verse in that beautiful Biblical love poem The Song of Songs 8:6 which says: 
"Place me like a seal over your heart, 
like a seal on your arm; 
for love is as strong as death, 
its ardor unyielding as the grave. 
It burns like a blazing fire, 
like a mighty flame." 
(New International Version)

Or in a more modern translation:
 "Always keep me in your heart 
and wear this bracelet to remember me by. 
The passion of love bursting into flame 
is more powerful than death, 
stronger than the grave." 
(Contemporary English Version)

The second thing which seems appropriate as we think about both love and death is the "End of life choice bill" currently being debated in our NZ Parliament. Whatever view we may each take on this issue it is clear that both love and death are part of the equation.  That's food for thought throughout these weeks of Lent. For Jesus, love meant he was willing to go all the way to death - with no choice for a peaceful way to die. 

I greatly appreciated a recent discussion at Ponsonby Baptist Church last Sunday where those gathered expressed their stories, questions and views on the issues in the bill. There was no attempt to convince each other or to come to a joint conclusion.. There was room for respect and thoughtful reflection. I'm sure Jesus was very much present with us. I'm genuinely not sure what he might have said as the "talking stick" was passed round!