I read the Song of Songs today. I’ve never heard a sermon on that book of the Bible, and I’ve been going to church every Sunday for over twenty years. With its colorful imagery and romantic passion, though, I suppose a sermon might ruin it for me. But that kind of romance isn’t all Valentine’s Day is about.
Roman soldiers were forbidden to marry by the emperor, during St. Valentine’s lifetime. If the soldiers were married and had families, they wouldn’t be as loyal to Rome, so marriage was forbidden. But the Christians valued marriage enough to disobey the order, and St. Valentine performed marriage ceremonies secretly, until he was imprisoned and martyred. This is the truth of the story in a nutshell, and while there may be some facts that I’m missing, this is the part connected with it being a holiday for lovers.
St. Valentine died not for romantic love only, but the commitment of Christian marriage, a sacred undertaking before God, the symbolic representation of Christ and His church. I think it is fitting that St. Valentine was a martyr, because on his day we remember other martyrs. A marriage in God’s sight is one where husband and wife willing offer up their life for each other. That was what Christ did when He chose death in order to bring us salvation; that is our standard of love. Marriage is for martyrs, not in a sarcastic, disillusioned way, but in a passionate, Spirit filled way.
This month I’ve seen a lot of commercials for flowers and jewelry and chocolate. Romance is alive and well in American culture today. But there’s not much out there about martyrdom in my corner of the Christian world, though, and there’s also very little passionate love. I feel like someone missed the memo on what Christian marriage is supposed to be, and it’s because martyrdom is downplayed in modern culture. Who really wants to be a martyr? And who thinks Christian marriage is a serious love affair?
There are still a few of us who would like the chance. I would rather awkwardly and painfully figure out what living each day as a martyr looks like, than all the jewelry and chocolate in the world. Because when I read the Song of Songs, that is a love affair worth having. Because I’ve binged on romance in books and movies, and came up empty from the lack of reality. Because marriage is a relationship, not a revolving door.
I like the Valentine flowers, and chocolate, and stuffed animals, cute stuff. But is cute really romantic? Romance used to mean something along the lines of ‘grand adventure.’ As humans, we want to be involved in a grand adventure. We want to feel we have purpose. What could be more of a grand adventure than vowing to enter a sacred union between two people that can never be broken, for the purpose of symbolizing Christ and His church to the world? What could be more of a grand adventure than being a martyr?
St. Valentine, pray for us. Pray God there would be more willing martyrs in marriage, proclaiming Christ to the world.