And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.
Last week I paced through the “seasonal” aisle at the grocery store looking for the right Valentines. Was I searching for the items that would perfectly convey my love for my wife? No. Instead, I was trying to find appropriate cards/items that my son could distribute during his celebration of the holiday in his kindergarten class.
Tucked away behind the heart shaped boxes of chocolate varieties was a solitary box of Mandalorian Valentines, and I knew that Elijah would delight in giving them to all his friends.
And this morning, as I walked him to school, I asked him if he knew why he was bringing Valentines to school and he said, “I’m sure it has something to do with Jesus.”
And he wasn’t wrong!
Valentine’s Day is a particularly striking holiday because of the juxtaposition from how it started to what it looks like today.
There were numerous Christians in the early church named Valentine and many of them were martyred for their faith. That is, their commitment to the kingdom of God was such that the powers and principalities believed the only way to stop them was to kill them.
But perhaps the most famous Valentine was Valentine the Bishop of Terni during the 3rd century. The story goes that he was put under house arrest by Judge Asterius for evangelizing and the two of them eventually struck up a conversation about Jesus. The judge wanted to put Valentine’s faith to the test and brought in his blind daughter and asked for her to be healed. If Valentine was successful, the judge agreed to do whatever he asked.
Valentine, then, placed his hands on the girl’s blind eyes and her vision was restored.
Overcome by the miracle, the judge agreed to get baptized and freed all of the Christian inmates under his authority.
Later, Valentine was arrested (again) for his continued attempts to share the Good News and was sent before the Roman Emperor Claudius II. Valentine attempted to convince the Claudius to convert to the faith, but then Valentine was condemned to death unless he renounced his own faith.
Valentine refused and was beheaded on… (wait for it)… February 14th, 269.
Later additions to the story proclaim that, shortly before his execution, Valentine wrote a letter to the young girl he once healed and he signed it, “from your Valentine” which is said to have inspire the holiday we now enjoy.
So, what does a beheaded Christian martyr have to do with boxes of chocolate and bouquets of roses?
The book of Genesis is full of family betrayals and deceits. Particularly dreadful is the story of Jacob being sold into slavery by his brothers because they couldn’t handle their own jealousy. Jacob makes a name for himself in Egypt and eventually reconciles with the very brothers who abandoned/betrayed him when they come looking for food to eat.
Jacob’s love for his brothers was such that, even though they ruined his life, he “kisses them and weeps upon them.”
Love is awful like that. It can make us do crazy and bewildering things. At least, they are crazy and bewildering according to the world.
But consider what we do on Valentine’s Day: we throw away gobs of money on trivial and fleeting items. The flowers will eventually fade and the chocolate will expire.
But others will say that St. Valentine’s willingness to die for his faith, and Jacob’s willingness to forgives his brothers, is even crazier.
Love is a crazy thing.
It also happens to be how God feels about us.
God, in Christ, full of hope and grace and mercy mounts the hard wood of the cross to die for us. And then, three days later, God gives him back to us.
Happy Valentine’s Day!