As I sit here at my desk looking over the United Methodist Worship Planning Calendar for 2019 that the Board of Governors gives to various committee chairs each year, I am struck by the fact that there is no special religious day in February. There is no special Sunday like Epiphany or Christ’s Baptism in January, or Transfiguration Sunday or Lent in March, or Palm Sunday or Easter Sunday in April this year. Or is there?
Stuck in the middle of the month, and on a weekday this year, is a day called Valentine’s Day. It’s a secular day that celebrates romantic love, right?
Commercially it has turned into the second largest card-selling day (second only to Christmas) every year. In fact, some say it dates back to the early days of the Roman Empire and is a pagan celebration of the founding of Rome. However, there are some churches— Anglican, Lutheran and Eastern Orthodox— that celebrate it as Saint Valentine’s Day in honor of a bishop from Rome in the 4th century who was martyred for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to persecuted Christians.
So whether it’s a pagan or sacred day, it is a day that celebrates romantic love. But what is romantic love? Are there other kinds of love? A couple of years ago Cole Ryan, a Christian author, wrote an article entitled, Figuring Out What Love Really Is, in which he laid out two very different and contrary views of love. One was passive and the other was active.
“Passive love is the kind of love that happens to you,” he wrote. “It’s the warm feeling you get when you are around someone you love– they make you feel good,…happy, they complete you. They consume your mind, steal your heart, and you’re addicted to them.” But he goes on to say that this love “is entirely self-centered. We love this person because they benefit us.
What happens when that other person can no longer do this for us? What happens when this person no longer makes us happy or feel good? This is often when couples give up and break up.
Active love is very different. “It persists despite,” says Ryan. Despite how he or she makes you feel, despite how he or she treats you. “Active love chooses to stick around even when it isn’t beneficial… when there is nothing to gain.”
This is God’s love. As I John 4:16 says, “God is love.” And “this is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us”. (I John 3:16) It is no longer seeking to be loved (passive), but seeking to love the one you found (active). “The goal,” says Ryan, “is to do for them what Jesus did for me-– to lower myself to lift them up, to die to myself to give them life.” And this is exactly what the rest of I John 3:16 says, “And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”
So there is a “religious” holiday in February after all. St. Valentine’s Day is God’s Love Day. For this is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.
Happy Valentine’s Day to you all!
Rich Pollock is a retired Presbyterian minister. He lives in Topsail Beach with his wife Julia. Both are active affiliates of Emma Anderson Memorial Chapel. Rich happily fills in at the pulpit when a guest minister is unavailable for Sunday worship.