This week marks two events for me and they are connected. The first is Valentine's Day and the second is the one year anniversary of my writing contributions to the IV Press. My first column was about Saint Valentine, who he was (he was a real person) and what he did that we would commemorate his feast day (he was a priest who defied the Caesar and married Christians, which was against Imperial decree, and was martyred). When we think of Valentine's Day we think of love. And we celebrate love, evidenced by the commercials reminding men of their duty, by getting flowers (specifically roses), or chocolate (Russels and Whitmans seem to be the most popular), or both. I suppose there are no commercials directed at women because they 1) don't need reminding or 2) are the solely recipients. If it's the former, no surprise there. If it's the latter, well, chauvinism reigns!
Somehow I think love means more than what those commercials portray. Love has to be more than that, doesn't it?
In my studies of New Testament Greek, which is by far the language of most of the ancient texts used to compile a complete New Testament, I learned that there are three words for love. Eros, or romantic, sexual love. Eros is the root word for words like erotic. Philios, or friendship. Brotherly love. The city of Philadelphia literally means city of brotherly love. And the third, Agape, which means sacrificial love. Agape is the word used to describe God's love. It is also the word Jesus uses most often when talking about how we are to love one another.
Agape. Sacrificial love. Putting the well being of others ahead of oneself. I believe it is this love that makes us human. I say that because I believe scripture reminds us Christians that sin is the diminishing character of humanity. It is manifest in all forms of violence.
Violence can take many forms: Physical, verbal, exclusion, racism, sexism, abuse, neglect. We even use the phrase "man's inhumanity toward man," that to me indicates the loss of our human identity.
It is the opposite of Agape.
To be truly human is to effort each day to live agape lives. That is to say living lives in relationships rooted in sacrificial love. The Apostle Paul once wrote that, in the end, three things will remain: Faith, Hope and Love, and the greatest of these is love. The love of which he speaks is agape. Many of us have heard these words, Paul’s words, at weddings. But like our celebration of Valentine's Day I wonder if we fully grasp the fullness the love he calls agape. Sacrificial-life-giving-love.
I believe the most powerful witness of agape is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. His love, his agape brought healing and reconciliation to all humanity. It was, and is God’s way of saying, “I will always seek what is best for you all not matter what. No exceptions. No exclusions. Rich. Poor. Woman. Man. Enslaved. Free. Gay. Straight. No exceptions.”
It is in the spirit of agape that I will be celebrating Valentine's Day with my wife, and remembering the sacrificial acts of Saint Valentine as well as all those who have been excluded from the celebration for too long. And I will be honoring the sacrificial love of Jesus by blessing all those persons who have entered into relationships of agape in a Celebration of Love this Sunday. And all means all!