14 February 2012

valentine and the saints

Today is Saint Valentine's Day, marked in the church calendar to commemorate the life of one or more martyrs by that name.  There is some historical fog to work through in understanding the origins of the date, or those for whom it is marked.  In contemporary practice this is a day set aside for lovers to make their affections known to their beloved, mostly in romantic ways.  And because various companies have done what companies are supposed to do (that is, make money by selling goods that people will buy), there is now no shortage of people who will bemoan the entire observance of the day simply because it has gone commercial.  Unfortunately, this is true for many Christians who would rather put on an air of soured grapes rather than take the opportunity to 1) have fun and enjoy the day, and 2) remind the world - through practice - what these days are intended to mark off.

The historical record of Valentinus is somewhat sketchy, but there is consensus that this day is marked off for the martyrdom of one of the church's more celebrated leaders - called saints, but I dislike such a term when all believers are saints according to biblical doctrine.  Was he a Roman priest, an Italian bishop, or an African martyr?  I am not entirely certain that it matters, since all are functions within the body of believers.  Those who dedicate themselves to the ministry of the faith - whether vocationally or not - are those to whom we consider a part of our spiritual heritage.

The world is full of a priesthood of believers, many evangelists, preachers, bishops and saints who give their lives and spill their blood in the name of Jesus that will never receive earthly recognition for their self-sacrifice.  Even the church will not pause over a day to remember them because most of us will never hear of their journey, though their chapters comprise the story in which ours is still being written.  For, in the large scheme of things, life is a story about God (not ourselves) and the book of life that he will complete in his time and in his way will beautifully contain every fate of everyone of his children.

So, when coming into Valentine's Day we can either grumble and complain or celebrate with joy.  We can choose to make this simply about the romantic love that we have for someone else, or we can consider that love which is eternal and which binds us all together.  Once we have placed ourselves in God's story we discover that which the Song of Songs is showing to us: that all love is wonderful in its place of God's pure and eternal love.

While we can trace the romantic element of Saint Valentine's Day back to Geoffrey Chaucer, who first connected the two concepts together, it is only in the heritage of faith that we can understand how the two are meant to be one: for true love does not exist outside of that one eternal true love of God.  To pout our way through that which has admittedly been a bit over-commercialized does nothing more than make Christians seem too grumpy and unappealing.  (The same could be said for Christmas, which does not overshadow the true believer's heart in consideration of the Incarnation.)  For one reason or another Saint Valentine was given a day for the church to remember him - because the faith he lived was Incarnational, in his life and in his death.  Ours too is meant to be the embodiment of the risen Christ to a world that needs someone to show how this romantic love - good and pleasant and wonderful as it is - can be deeper and more meaningful because it is an experience of creation, and the Creator.

Without Christians willing to celebrate Valentine's Day, how will the world know that love is deeper than the shallow mimicry of pornographic websites, films, books and fantasies?  Without the presence of the kingdom of God moving into all the world - yes, even the romantic celebrations of lover and beloved - will there ever be a reason for anyone to think that love is an experience of that which is eternal?  The work of the kingdom is to make earth more like heaven today than yesterday . . . through love.

No comments: