Seven weeks ago we celebrated Valentine’s Day, the day of love.
What if we were to celebrate a week of love?
According to Wikipedia, St. Valentine was a clergyman who was martyred on February 14, 269 AD for ministering to persecuted Christians. Being so early in the Christian tradition, there are not a lot historical documents to paint a larger context, but very early in Church history he was recognized as a martyr. Because of his ministry of compassion, February 14 is now celebrated as a day of love and friendship.
Words Matter: Love.
Unfortunately, the celebration of Valentine’s day has been reduced to a celebration of romance. The spirit of generous compassion that marked its namesake patron has all but disappeared.
But there is another example of this kind of love that we can celebrate this week. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one that this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Just hours after saying that, it is exactly what Jesus did.
The difference between St. Valentine and Jesus is that Valentine was a martyr. Jesus was a sacrifice. No one took His life from Him; He willing laid it down Himself (John 10:17-18). The thing they had in common was love.
Traditionally, some Christians refer to the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday as “Holy Week.” Perhaps it would be more accurate to refer to it as "Love Week."
Part of the core of God’s nature and character is love. He cannot not love. Yes, I know that is a double negative, but how else can we come to understand it? He cannot not love. Jesus’ death on the cross was not a desperate act to fix a broken situation. It was not driven by pity. It was an intentional, self-sacrificing choice, driven by joy because of His heart of love; He loves us.
Is this not the first thing we teach our children: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16)?
This does not mean Jesus was immune from sadness or sorrow. His heart was grieved frequently during this week. We all know what that can be like - all of us, at one time or another, have experienced or caused hurt in the heart of love. The ache was so great that Jesus even prayed, “Take this cup from me . . . but not my will, Your will be done.” The pain was real.
The love was greater. This should be the focus of this week: Love Week. There should be a solemnity as we intentionally pause to reflect on the absolute horror of sin. Rosaria Butterfield calls sin “treason against God.” Somehow, that image grips me. I can feel the icy fingers of betrayal tightening around my neck. I know what it is to be disloyal - I’ve been that. I know what it is to be betrayed - I’ve experienced that. It is devastating. This is what I - and all of us collectively - have done to God.
Yet, He Loves Us.
Unconditionally. He created us with such great value and purpose that even at our very worst we are still the objects of His love, worthy of redemption and reconciliation. Not because we can do anything to help “fix” the problem but because He Loves Us. And He created us with great value and purpose. (Yes, I’m repeating myself. We all need to hear this again and again. Most of the time we don’t believe this to be absolutely true.)
He Loves Us.
And this week proves it. It was a week of sorrow, joyfully endured, because of His Love For Us.
This is Love Week.
There can only be one response: to love God back. We love Him by accepting His gift of reconciliation through Jesus Christ. We love Him by living out the purposes for which He created us. We love Him by loving one another, reflecting His compassion, mercy, grace, and righteousness. We love Him by choosing to be loyal, fighting against the icy, strangling grip of betrayal.
And we love Him because He first loved us.
This week is Love Week. Together may those around us and in whose lives we have the privilege of engaging experience His love through us. It was for the joy set before Him - His love for us - that He endured the cross and despised the shame. (Heb. 12:2)
In that same way, may we love one another.