Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
(I Corinthians 13. 4 - 7)
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God… No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us… God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.
(1 John 4. 7; 12; 16b)
When we were married the ‘Love is…’ cartoons were popular. We were even given a pair of ‘Love is..’ pillowcases as a wedding present. Rather twee perhaps, but they had an important sentiment behind them which resonates Paul’s famous passage about love in the New Testament.
On Sunday, many will mark Valentine’s Day with appropriate tokens of love. Formal messages or valentines date back to the 1500s, and by the 1700s printed cards were already being used. However, the history of St Valentine is more sobering.
This minor Christian saint’s day honours several Christian martyrs. Roman Emperor Claudius II executed two men, both named Valentine, on 14 February of different years. These men had been ministering to persecuted Christians, helping them to escape from the dire Roman prisons, where they were held captive and tortured for their faith. The Valentines had also supported the cause of young men for whom marriage was outlawed. The Roman authorities thought that young men would make better soldiers if they were unencumbered by wives and families.
There is nothing sentimental here. This was costly unconditional love, which demonstrated many of the characteristics of love listed by Paul: kindness, patience, protection, perseverance, a rejection of evil, and hope. Following in the footsteps of Jesus, their actions would eventually cost the two Valentines their lives.
It is suggested that one Valentine healed a blind girl, to whom he later sent a message before his execution, signed ‘your Valentine’. Whether this was actually the first Valentine message or just a romantic folktale, we will never know.
What we do know is that we are called to live lives of love, because love comes from God. It is a way in which we are recognised as Christ’s disciples, and when we love one another, God’s love is made complete in us.
Compassionate God, love comes from you. May our lives be ever filled with a love which gives without counting the cost, which protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres and never fails.
Such love, pure as the whitest snow.