I discovered during the week that St Valentine was a priest who was martyred under Claudius. Valentine's day has nothing to do with him. It comes from the pagan feast of Lupercalia which was celebrated around about the middle of February.
Why mention Valentine's day. I mean it's getting a bit close to.... sex, and the church has never been very comfortable with that. Sex is a necessary evil for the sake of procreation, and you shouldn't enjoy it.... that might sum up the view of much of the church for most of its history. And because it is still not talked about much, and remains hidden, so does much of its abuse in domestic violence and rape.
But God is not down on sex.
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
For your love is better than wine,
your anointing oils are fragrant,
your name is perfume poured out;
there fore the maidens love you.
Draw me after you, let us make haste. Song of Solomon 1:2-4a
Your two breasts are like two fawns,
twins of a gazelle,
that feed among the lilies.
Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, I will hasten to the hill of myrrh
And the hill of frankincense.
Your are altogether beautiful, my love;
there is no flaw in you. Song of Solomon 4:5-7
I slept, but my heart was awake.
Listen! My beloved is knocking.
"Open to me my sister, my love,
my dove, my perfect one;
for my head is wet with dew,
my locks with the drops of night.
I had put off my garment;
how could I put it on again?
I had bathed my feet, how could I soil them?
My beloved thrust his hand into the opening,
and my inmost being yearned for him.
I arose to open to my beloved,
and my hands dripped with myrrh,
my fingers with liquid myrrh,
upon the handles of the bolt. Song of Solomon 5:2-6
These words, which will beat any Valentine notice we find in the news paper, are from the Bible. If they had been published anywhere else in Australia of the fifties, they would have been censored! As someone said, the final proof that most Christians don't read the Bible too closely' is the fact that The Song of Songs is still in there! Or perhaps it is that we have been so repressed we have shown a profound lack of imagination.
Traditionally the church has handled this explicit love poem by saying it shows how God loves the church and the church should love God. Sex can't be so bad if it's used as an illustration of that! Many have also found that in their love and sexual desire for each other, which is a holy thing, they have also found God.
I guess we have been suspicious of sex, because we recognise and fear it's force and power. It is the epitome of our body.... it is our body taking us over, and controlling us. The church has not liked the body... Paul spoke against the Flesh. And though he strictly uses that term the Flesh to mean an attitude towards God, not our bodies, it has always had the overtone and interpretation, that the body is bad, or at best, very secondary.
This is profoundly wrong. When we contemplate our bodies, with their wrinkles, and hair, and their messiness and smells.... when we feel too fat, with all the lumps in the wrong places... when we feel ashamed about sexual bodily desires..... the amazing grace of God in all these things is that Jesus came to us in a body. He came to us as flesh. God was... in... and through... a body "perfectly expressed."
God was naked, sweaty and smelly like us. God knew sexual desire like us. And it was good! That is what it inescapably means to say he was fully human and fully divine. And God's final act of love for us was done in the flesh. God died on the cross. God in the flesh suffered blood, sweat and tears. Something of God was afraid... my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
The love of God is that after the degradation of Jesus to animality in the flesh, and the painful shameful naked death on a cross, resurrection came. He rose again, in the flesh, we say. And his hopes and our hopes have risen again in the flesh, held in the flesh of our minds and bodies.
In Communion we gather in our bodies. We love each other through our bodies... there is no other way we can even hold hands or speak. We eat his body and blood. We believe, we say, in the resurrection of the body. It means we will be fully saved, our whole essential selves. In the Greek church they say we will be divinised... made like God in the resurrection of the body.
In plain ordinary prose, outside the poetry of theology, perhaps it means this: "I am OK, lumps and bumps and ugly bits. God loves all of me. I need not be ashamed of me, or my desires."
So this Valentines Day let us rejoice in what we can taste and see and feel and touch in what God has given us.
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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