Happy St. Valentine’s Day!
Our Hallmark Greeting Card culture may not be aware of this, but there actually was a Christian priest in the 200’s named Valentine who was remembered as a saint. Like many Christians in the Early Church, he was seized by the Roman authorities and ordered to renounce Christ or die. Not wanting to forsake his Lord & God, St. Valentine ended up clubbed to death on February 14th, 269AD.
A great many other stories surround his life and ministry, and due to the scarcity of manuscripts from that time, it’s hard to sort out fact from fiction. Even how his commemoration day ended up becoming a celebration of love and romance is lost to the murky waters of history, but here we have it – a day our culture popularly sets aside to celebrate love.
I visited Athol this morning to hear Bishop Thad Barnum speak at a men’s breakfast group – he talked about being real with ourselves, with one another, and before God. We tend to put up strong public images of ourselves which, when we take them too seriously, even we ourselves can end up believing. Valentine’s Day can be like that too – very easily we, with our culture, celebrate “love” with chocolate and wine and roses and greeting cards, but fail to make the full connection to what love actually is.
Tomorrow is the last Sunday before Lent, and by an interesting coincidence, its Epistle reading is 1 Corinthians 13 – the famous chapter about love. There, we are taught that love is really quite profound. As we go through the list (patient, kind, non-jealous, non-boastful, non-arrogant, bears all things, endless, and so on) we find that love seems impossible. How can I ever act in such a perfect way? What does all this even look like?
Mercifully, God has shown us what love looks like.
As Jesus himself explained, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). This is one of my favorite verses in all of Scripture, and the main reason that I have come to appreciate the image of the crucifix. It is in Christ’s death that we most vividly see God’s love for us. The perfect, complete, and ultimate self-offering that he made there is beyond any other show of love that we or He could ever make!
Sure, Jesus’ death isn’t very “romantic” so to speak, but it is worth keeping in mind this Valentine’s Day as we seek to honor the love God has given us for one another, and especially between husbands and wives. And it is also worth keeping in mind this season of Lent, which begins in just a few days, because as we pursue heightened spiritual disciplines, we must remember that we do this not in a spirit of self-betterment or in an attitude of wallowing in misery, but in an ardent and heartfelt pursuit of the Amazing Love that God showed to us on the Cross, once for all and for eternity.