It was thirty-six years ago this coming April that Karin and I became engaged and this month twenty-six years ago we renewed our wedding vows – it was the very first time I got to see my lovely wife walk down the aisle (since I missed that part at our original wedding in 1979.) How quickly life flies past us and how quickly we see the rise and fall of those things we once thought were unchangeable. As time passes we learn one certainty and that is that the only unchangeable part of life is our God. His immutability is foundational to knowing that He will keep His promises, remaining faithful to the end of our days. With it being February and MOST IMPORTANTLY – National Women’s Heart Care Month – I thought I might speak to the history of Valentines’ Day!
Much has been made about the history associated with Valentines’ Day. Until I did the research for this blog I would have put the possessive apostrophe between the ‘e’ and the ‘s’ but I have learned that there were two martyrs named Valentine so it is more proper to use the plural possessive. That matter of grammar settled, I thought that for a few minutes we might explore the history of the holiday and then we’ll share with you some of the events coming up for our ministry. With just a peek into the history of origins of Valentines’ Day, we find that Al Capone and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre was more in line with how Valentines’ Day began than we perhaps gave the gangster credit. It seems the early Romans had a most seedy and decadent holiday that involved carousing, the killing of animals and women being whipped with leather straps (with the expectation that it would keep them from being barren.) In the 3rd Century a Roman emperor, Claudius II killed two men both on the same day (but in different years), both named Valentine. It became, ‘Valentines’ Day as the Catholic Church sought to recognize their martyrdom.
As time went by, the Roman Catholic Church decided to try to eliminate the decadent Lupercadia Festival that ran from Feb 13 to 15 by tying the martyrdom of the ‘Valentines’ to the festival, hoping that one would reduce the vulgarity of the other. Noel Lenski, a professor of history at the University of Colorado, made the interesting comment that “… the Christians put clothes back on (the festival). That didn’t stop it from being a day of fertility and love.” Sixteen hundred years later, the mob of Chicago seemed to set the capital on the holiday in a back alley garage and the entablature of romance and violence was secured.
So what do we make of the Roman Catholic Church trying to squelch the blatant debauchery of the unholy Lupercadia Festival and cover it with some vain attempt to recognize it as the martyrdom of the two men named Valentine? Does it speak to us of certain other attempts of religion to foster for itself something for which it has no regard? Where have we permitted religion to enter into the realm of our lives that Christ Himself never intended? Perhaps into the church itself we find ‘religion’ interfering with what Christ intended.
Christ was most protective of the Church He came to foster. Allow me to propose for a moment that Christ desired in His Church some of what was lost when Adam and Eve had to be expelled from the garden. We hear sermons preached about the effect that their being expelled from the garden had on Adam and Eve, but has anyone given much thought to what their sin cost the Triune God? It is important to go back to the earliest chapters of Genesis, the story of creation itself to find the answer.
Why did God create the world, the universe, the animals, and eventually, man? God sought the companionship of His creation. The Triune God said, “Let us make man in Our image.” They did not choose the image of some angelic being or some other created being already on the earth but in their image, a tri-part being with a body, soul and spirit. He made man so that He could commune with him and through Him. Someone once said that God created man so that He could be here among His creation through man and He could reach out to His creation through His creation. God spent hours walking in the garden, enjoying time with Adam and then with Adam and Eve. What did God lose when Adam and Eve sinned? He lost the close companionship He had so enjoyed. From that time on it would be through covenants, dispensations, prophets and priests that God related to man. That was why Christ was so necessary to come and re-create the relationship that was lost at the Fall.
Christ came for relationship, not religion. I believe that God shakes His head in despair when He sees the damage that Christians have done by labeling themselves as Christian and subdividing themselves into religions that have reinterpreted and misinterpreted what Christ taught. I believe in doctrinal position and a proper hermeneutic but I believe most strongly that Christ came and gave Himself for relationship, to heal that which was broken by our sin nature.
And now we are back with Valentines’ Day… according to the Roman Catholic Church, these two men were martyrs for the faith. For whatever the reason that Claudius II, emperor of Rome decided they should die; that they did. But the pagan festival and the perverted ‘love’ that has come to be associated with the day, is not what true love is about. Oh, yes some would say, I am a hopeless romantic and I am very fond of romantic love, as God blesses in a marriage relationship. So this ‘Valentines’ Day let us consider two words from the Bible, one in ancient Hebrew and the other in New Testament Greek. The first is hesed and the second is agape. A selfless love and charity is the former and a selfless, unconditional love is the latter. These are two wonderful joys to celebrate this February 14th.