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On Faith: Lent 2018 – Valentine's Day to April Fools' Day

This year, we are experiencing in the liturgical church year a phenomenon that hasn't occurred since 1945: the beginning and end of the Lenten season fall on largely secular holidays. That is to say, Ash Wednesday fell on Feb. 14, Valentine's Day, and Easter will fall on April Fools' Day, April 1.

We all know that the date of Easter varies according to the lunar calendar. The setup we have this year doesn't happen very often, obviously. In fact, it's been 73 years since the last time.

This is the kind of juxtaposition that theologians love, and most pastors, including me, have gotten considerable enjoyment out of this. Ash Wednesday falling on Valentine's Day may have tended to lower attendance at the evening service, but it allowed for all kinds of puns and jokes to be made. Among them: "You can't spell 'Valentine' without including 'lent.'" And also: "Celebrate Valentine's Day by getting your ash in church," and so on.

On a deeper level, it was easy to find a common theme between the two days: that of love. If Valentine's Day is about love, how much more is Ash Wednesday about love, the depth of God's love for us, which leads to the cross? And if the heart is a symbol of love, how much more is the cross a symbol of love, one that incorporates God's self-sacrificing and giving heart for all the world?

The same kind of fun can be found in the falling of Easter on April Fools' Day. The tradition of fooling others, of playing tricks and practicing deceptions, can certainly be applied to our understanding of what happens in the events of the crucifixion and the resurrection of Christ.

God fools Satan; it looks in the crucifixion as though death and evil are winning, but then, "April fool!," Christ is raised, and God wins after all.

This way of understanding the meaning of the crucifixion and resurrection, what theologians call "atonement," was very predominant in the Middle Ages. Atonement, literally "at-one-ment," is theology that explores the many meanings of the cross and the resurrection. And yes, there are many meanings.

Surprised there is more than one way to understand the meaning of Good Friday and Easter? We shouldn't be! Events of this kind of magnitude very naturally have several layers of meaning and depth. We may understand the cross as a sacrifice that appeased God's need for righteous judgment; or as an example of the length to which God's love brought God to go in order to save humanity; or as a battlefield in which God declares war on Satan and evil; or as a deception in which God turns the tables on Satan and has the last laugh after all, as Christ is raised. "April fool!"

This last understanding will be uppermost in the minds of many, with Easter falling on April 1 this year.

But for now, we are in March, which is encompassed by the Lenten season without either of these sacred/secular holidays. This is a good place to be. We have the opportunity to reflect upon the nature of our sin and brokenness, our need for Christ to journey to the cross and how we may journey with him through our acts of charity and sacrifice.

As we do so, we may keep in mind that the greatest April Fools' Day joke ever is just around the corner.

"On Faith" is a weekly column in the News-Chronicle written by area religious leaders. Pastor Susan Berge serves at Knife River Lutheran Church and lives in Duluth.