By Michael C. Mack
Want to really impress your Valentine’s date this Friday? Explain to your sweetheart that what we now know as Valentine’s Day was first celebrated in AD 496 by the Romans. They called it Lupercalia; it was held in the middle of February, which apparently was the beginning of their springtime. The tradition, it’s said, was that boys would draw the names of girls from a box, and they’d be boyfriend and girlfriend throughout the festival. Sometimes they’d even get married.
The system was probably more successful than most modern dating apps!
Our tradition these days is the giving and receiving of cards, flowers, and chocolates. Restaurants like Olive Garden, The Cheesecake Factory, and White Castle (I’m not kidding) will be packed with lovesick couples—or at least with those discerning enough not to forget to celebrate this very important holiday.
This week, you’ll see and hear many more jewelry store commercials than usual, because according to them, you don’t really love somebody if you don’t spend lots of money on the perfect diamond. And if you really want a kiss from your loved one, it apparently starts with a sizable purchase from a particular store.
The hucksters have studied human nature and they take full advantage of what they’ve learned. They know we are a sentimental species; God created us with a weakness, we might call it, toward reminiscing. That weakness, however, is also our strength—remembering those moments, those days, those events that signify what’s most important in our lives. They remind us about whom and what we truly love and are committed to.
And that’s why Jesus gave us this meal we call Communion. The early church sometimes called it a “love feast” (Jude 12). It’s all about a real love, a sacrificial love God has for us. “Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus told his disciples. And so we remember the most significant thing to ever happen in human history, when, propelled by his love for us, Jesus gave his body and blood, dying so we may have life.
This love feast we celebrate is nothing at all like the Lupercalia festival of long ago. Jesus’ love for us is not based on some arbitrary draw from a cosmic box of humankind. He knows each of us, loves each of us, and calls each of us by name.
Michael C. Mack serves as editor of Christian Standard.