Relax, it’s okay. Valentine’s Day is over and you can return to the comfort of taking your significant other for granted the way you usually do. If you think Valentine’s Day has become too expensive or commercialized, believe me it could be worse.
Originally it was a pagan holiday called Lupercalia that involved men stripping naked to sacrifice animals and in turn, boys salvaged strips of hide to whip young girls. This was done to increase fertility. I’m not sure if it worked but it certainly involved a lot more commitment than buying flowers and a card.
Valentine’s Day is looking a lot better now, isn’t it?
Christianity came along and eventually turned the day into a celebration of the life of one of their martyrs, a kind man named Valentine.
Not a lot is certain about Saint Valentine actually, but enough to establish that he really did exist. The basics are that he was a priest or bishop who was martyred in 269 AD while ministering to persecuted Christians in Rome. Long story short, this didn’t sit well with the authorities and so he was beaten to death with clubs, beheaded, and buried. So basically he was killed three times in a row…
This should be the end of the story but his disciples took it upon themselves to retrieve his body and keep it for awhile in the catacombs and then eventually in a church. That should be creepy enough but let’s just say the story gets even more icky after that.
You see, today there are icons with drops of Valentine’s blood or pieces of his bones in about a dozen churches around the world. His body is currently housed at Saint Anton’s Church in Madrid but didn’t arrive there until sometime in the late 1700s. Oh, and remember that he was beheaded? Well his skull is on display in a glass case in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Rome, a couple thousand kilometres east of his body.
I guess nice gifts are one way to celebrate Valentine’s Day, but nothing says love quite like having the people who care about you cherishing pieces of your dead body and staring at your empty skull 1750 years later.
It does raise an interesting thought though: what is the best way to express love? Gifts? Candlelight? Severed bodies?
The correct answer is gifts.
Seriously. Each of us giving the gift of ourselves.
Every year Valentine’s Day is among the biggest cash-grabs in our already commercialized culture with the inferred message that love is expressed through gifts. It’s all based on the truth that you can’t buy love but your life will be easier if you try.
But what if gift-giving could be something more than spending money? What if gifts included valuable but elusive items like thoughtfulness, conversation, time, closeness, fun, promise keeping? Wouldn’t it be better to express our love with those daily gifts rather than just buying the occasional shiny thing?
For so many people love is more like a task, an add-on, an occasional sidetrack, when in truth it is intended to be a lifestyle, a habit, a constant. Gently finding ways to be close rather than separate from each other.
Imagine a marriage where both partners care about each other every day in the most mundane but thoughtful ways? In spite of the inevitable hills and valleys, a marriage of generous days would become a lifetime of generous days.
And a lifetime of generous days is a deeply spiritual idea.
God speaks of this kind of love in many places but Psalm 23 comes to mind where he assures us that, no matter what happens, his love is intentional, practical, and permanent. It’s one of the reasons the 23rd Psalm has always been such a touchpoint for people in every circumstance. Go ahead, read it again:
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
That describes a love that is practical, safe, close, forever. Love is life-giving in any and all circumstances.
Yet for Christians there is something more. I didn’t intend for this to become a sermon but this is not just about human romance. This is a faithfulness that is personal and divine for every person, regardless of their earthly relationship status. It’s about you and God. God’s daily presence with us is unique because it is not only current but it also extends into the unknown of the next life.
But your dead will live, Lord;
their bodies will rise—
let those who dwell in the dust
wake up and shout for joy—
your dew is like the dew of the morning;
the earth will give birth to her dead. (Isaiah 26:19, NIV)
Everyday love. Forever love.
When it’s all said and done, isn’t that the kind of love we were all hoping for on Valentine’s Day?