Love and St Valentine

Sermon preached at Morning Prayer

We don’t know a lot about Valentine, but he seems to have been a priest or a bishop of Terni, in central Italy.

He was martyred in Rome under the Emperor Claudius in around the year 269, and probably on the 14th February.

It’s actually possible that there were in fact 3 Valentines who were martyrs but to avoid making things too complicated I’m going to stick to just one.

There are also two possible reasons why he’s connected with lovers:

One is that in the Middle Ages it was thought that birds chose their mates on the 14th February.

The other is that it’s connected to a pagan Roman festival which happened at this time and which was designed to promote health and fertility.

He’s not actually officially celebrated by either the Church of England or the Roman Catholic Church, but that doesn’t need to stop us thinking about him or what his connection to love might mean for us, outside of the romantic kind celebrated by cards and chocolates.

Valentine, whoever he was, was killed for his faith, which he refused to let go of, despite the dangers it posed, out of his love for Jesus.

Such love for God is our first priority as Christians, and the thing which should inform all our thoughts, words and actions

There’s also a story that while in prison Valentine devoted himself to helping his fellow soon to be martyrs and to teaching the daughter of his jailer.

In this Valentine showed his love for the people around him – both Christians like him and those who could be considered his enemies – the jailer and his daughter.

And we too are called to show such love, to care not only for our friends and families but also for strangers and even enemies.

Then, finally, there is of course God’s love for us, from which all our attempts to love flow.

George Herbert wrote a beautiful and famous poem about this which goes:

LOVE

LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,  
      Guilty of dust and sin.  
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack  
      From my first entrance in,  
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning        
      If I lack’d anything.  
 
‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’  
     Love said, ‘You shall be he.’  
‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,  
      I cannot look on Thee.’   
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,  
      ‘Who made the eyes but I?’  
 
‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame  
      Go where it doth deserve.’  
‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’  
      ‘My dear, then I will serve.’  
‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’  
      So I did sit and eat.     So this Valentine’s Day, may we remember that romantic love is not the only, or even the most important, kind of love.   The love we are called to show as children of God is the kind that puts God and others first, and is bold, strong, active and offered to all.

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