If you walk through the store not too long after Christmas the seasonal section will be full of red and pink hearts as the consumer world prepares for the best known holiday in February, Valentine’s Day. While originally named for St. Valentine, the day has little if nothing to do with its namesake in our modern day and age. Some very much enjoy the hearts, chocolate, and focus on romance that floods the stores, air waves, and advertisements this time of year, others however find it overly commercialized, overly romantic, or just not the way they care to show their significant other (if they have one) that they care. Either way we can all use the celebration of Valentine’s Day as a time to reflect on love and its place in our Christian tradition.
When thinking about love in the Christian context any number of scripture references may come to mind. Perhaps one of the following is what pops up first.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.- John 3:16
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. - 1 John 4:7-8
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
- 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8a
Each of these passages serves to teach us something of love, especially as it relates to God. In them we are reminded that God loves us, that God doesn’t just love, but is love, and we are given a picture of what love as known in and shown by God looks like. Love is at the heart of Christian life, teaching, and practice. Jesus even sums up all the Law and the Prophets in two commands:
He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ -Matthew 22:37-39
As we meditate on love and its central place in our faith it is appropriate to consider what love (especially love as illustrated in the 1 Corinthians passage) does to/for us. Love has a way of softening us, opening us, and enlivening us like nothing else can. Dr. Rowan Williams puts it this way:
“Love [is] that which permits us to be enriched and to be ‘given to’, made alive, to be breathed into. Not a passive thing, as some of those images might suggest, but a state of openness to joy. Love: not simply as doing good but as a deep contemplative regard for the world, for humanity in general and for human beings in particular, and for God.”
It is love, both the love that God gives and the love that God is, that allows us to be most fully human and to recognize, in word and deed, the full humanity of others. This is powerful stuff and love at a whole different level than the “love” filled valentines filling the seasonal section at the store. It is this love that I invite you to contemplate anew regardless of whether you give or receive any chocolate hearts this year.