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A Message from Duncan- February 13, 2024

A Message from Duncan- February 13, 2024

You Can’t Spell VALENTINE without LENT


This Wednesday the calendar goes schizophrenic, and I don’t know what to think about it.  What do you do when the Day of Love coincides with the Day of Death; when the celebration of sugar and spice and all things nice clashes with slugs and snails and puppy dogs’ tails; when chocolates, roses and hearts bump up against self-denial, fasting, and mortality, when Valentine’s’ Day and Ash Wednesday share the same 24 hours?  Which do you pick – deserts or desserts?


I’m genuinely torn.  Normally, if love is one of the options, I’d take it.  How can you reject cupid and his arrow?  He’s so cute with his chubby baby cheeks and his sweet little wings.  No.  I’m sure of it.  If you can choose between celebrating love (including its romantic variety) or thinking about my death, there’s only one option… 99% of the time.


Except that this Wednesday is not normal.  It’s not business as usual in the Hallmark aisle of the card store.  So, painful though it is, when push comes to shove, when deserts clash with desserts, I’m choosing self-denial.  Ash Wednesday beats Valentine’s Day every time.  (Of course, you can try to do both.  See if you can pull off that ‘ashes smeared on your forehead’ look as you enjoy a romantic dinner with your partner in a public restaurant.)


“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  The problem with Ash Wednesday, indeed the whole of Lent, is that it says uncomfortable words to us.  Words that make us Christians rather embarrassed.  We want to express things in an upbeat way, eliminate sentiments that could appear unwelcoming or be misunderstood as insensitive to people’s feelings.


In this season of Lent, we are invited to be offended.  There is no pain-free way of looking at this.  We are not gods, we are not immortal, we were not omnipotent.  Our limitations are very obvious.  Sometimes we try to hide them from other people, and even from ourselves.  And we may even get away with it for a while.  As long as we compare ourselves with other people, and make sure they are people whose limitations are greater than ours, then most of the time we can kid ourselves that our limitations are not that great.  But then we come to a time of self-examination, we take a long hard look in the mirror, and we see the painful truth.  We are dust and to dust we shall return.


The other day I was talking to someone after church, and he told me he thought we should have our funerals while we are still alive.  That way, he said, we can be present to hear all the nice things they will say about us when we’re dead.  Here’s the news: We already have an annual funeral.  Ash Wednesday gives us that opportunity to consider our death.  So, welcome to your funeral.  You are dust, and to dust you shall return.