A woman receives ashes.
A woman receives ashes. (REUTERS/Adrees Latif/File Photo)

For the first time since 1945, Ash Wednesday coincides with Valentine's Day. February 14, A.D. 269 was the date of execution of the third-century Saint Valentine, who was renowned for marrying Christian couples.

While in prison for his faith, he prayed for the healing of the blind jailer's daughter, and her sight was miraculously restored. On the day of execution, as the ax fell on his head, he left the jailer's daughter a note signed "Your Valentine."

Coincidentally, the ceremony of marking ash on the forehead of a Christian started circa A.D. 225 and signified a day of fasting, the beginning of Lent in the 46 days leading to Easter. The ashes are a sign of repentance and emanate from the cries in Psalm 51.

At Lent, we are called to give something up as an act of surrender, and in love, we are called to give up a part of our self to share with the one we love. In doing so on both occasions through giving, we receive, and we realize that reciprocation is a key ingredient of love.

Valentine gave his head, Jesus Christ gave His life, and in return, the jailer's daughter received her sight and we received our forgiveness of sin with our redemption.

I have been told that there is no such word as coincidence in Hebrew, though I sense that the last time these days coincided was in the final days of World War II. Today should serve as a reminder to us all to seek peace and avoid costly battle in our lives with others, and in turn, nations.

Lastly a poetic word for today:

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust
Loving others is a must.
Life is short with much to do
Take the moment for you know who.

Martin Clarke is a London businessman and a member of Holy Trinity Brompton Anglican Church in London.

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