By Tom Claibourne
Legends abound regarding the origin of Valentine’s Day and the namesake for the holiday. At least three different Saint Valentines, all of them martyrs, are mentioned in the early martyrologies associated with February 14.
The Roman Empire under Claudius was involved in many bloody, unpopular military campaigns. As a result, it became increasingly difficult to recruit soldiers. The emperor reasoned that the Roman men did not want to keep leaving their wives and families to fight, so he simply canceled all marriages and engagements in Rome.
Valentine began secretly marrying couples and aiding persecuted believers. He was soon dragged before the authorities and condemned to die. While languishing in prison, Valentine was visited by many young people who encouraged him with notes and flowers.
One of the frequent visitors was the daughter of a prison guard, with whom he developed a strong friendship. On the day Valentine was scheduled to be beaten and beheaded, February 14, ad 269 (or 270), he left his friend a note signed, “Love, from your Valentine.”
A pope two centuries later set aside February 14 to honor Saint Valentine. Gradually, that date became the time each year for exchanging love messages and giving simple gifts like flowers.
Powerful story. Nice tradition. Good pattern to remember and follow.
Some aspects of the story have probably been embellished, but the fact is, we don’t need a speculative legend to inspire us with an account of sacrificial love.
The Lord’s Supper calls us to remember the ultimate Valentine love. It points to the God who ordained and sanctified marriage not long after creation. A God who set the standard for selfless love as seen in his patient relationship with his people throughout Bible history. A God who sent his only Son to rescue us from the dark prison of sin through his brutal death on a cross and his glorious resurrection.
That’s the ultimate Valentine story, a story that inspires us to honor marriage, love selflessly, give generously, and be faithful unto death. That’s a story worth remembering. That’s a Savior worth following, even if someone in power commands us to do otherwise.
That’s Valentine love.
Tom Claibourne celebrates the Lord’s Supper with the Bethlehem Church of Christ in Winchester, Ohio, where he serves as preaching minister.