Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: The Bow in the Clouds

St Valentine’s Day
14 February 2021
Morning Service

Revd Nicholas Mercer

It is highly likely that there will be many of you listening to the service today who will be marking Valentine’s Day

You may have sent a card or given or received a gift

Red roses, chocolates or even jewellery are amongst the popular presents for today

Alternatively, you might be planning to cook your partner a romantic meal which is my favourite way of marking the day

And if you have not remembered Valentine’s Day, then this sermon might act as a timely reminder

St Valentine’s Day is arguably the best know Saints Day in the calendar

It’s generally great fun, relatively harmless and adds some colour to an otherwise grey time of year

And even more so this year when we celebrate in the midst of a pandemic

This is love, not in a time of Cholera, but in a time of COVID

Although the exact origins of this day are unclear

This Saints Day is thought to commemorate Valentine of Rome who lived in the third century AD

And the hagiography is very moving

Valentine is thought to have been a priest or even a Bishop in the Roman Empire during the reign of the Emperor Claudius

He said to have ministered to persecuted Christians

And, inevitably, as a result of his ministry, he was placed under arrest

He was reputedly brought before a local judge who asked him to prove his faith by restoring the sight of his adopted daughter

Valentine duly prayed to God before laying his hands on the child’s eyes

Miraculously the young girl’s sight was restored and the judge asked Valentine what he should do to atone for his scepticism?

Valentine asked him to smash the idols in his home and undergo baptism

The judge, his family and the forty two members of his household were baptised

Valentine was duly release and continued his ministry

According to the Nuremberg Chronicle of 1493 which contains an account of Valentine’s life

He was subsequently re-arrested by the Roman Authorities

Apparently for marrying Christian couples and aiding those who were being persecuted by the Romans

This time he was sent to Rome for trial before the Emperor himself

According to account, the Emperor initially took a liking to Valentine

However, when Valentine tried to convert the Emperor, he was sentenced to death

He was initially beaten with stones and clubs

But, when this failed to kill him, he was eventually beheaded before the Flaminian Gate on the 14th February 269 AD

But of course Valentine is associated with romantic love and there are a number of theories as to how this came about

First and foremost, he is associated with secretly performing weddings for Christians

This was not only illegal but it also enabled Christians to escape conscription into the Roman Army

Presumably, the authorities did not know that the couples were Christians but only that they were married

It is said that Valentine gave the Christian hearts cut out of parchment to remind them of their vows and God’s love for them

Another story goes that, whilst in prison before his execution, he healed the jailer’s daughter

He is supposed to have written her a note before he died signed with the words

from your Valentine

A reminder of God’s love no doubt – rather than a token of his own affection – but a message which fills millions of cards to this day

Finally, others have suggested that Valentine’s Day is associated with romantic love because it was believed that birds paired in mid-February

Some say that a pair of birds paired above his tomb

Whatever the true origin, this day was commemorated in the pre-Reformation calendars

This Saints Day was restored in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer

He is a Saint in the Anglican and Eastern Orthodox Communion

And is therefore a Prayer Book Saint, commemorated annually on this day

One could almost claim that he is one of us…..

Whatever the accuracy of these accounts they serve as a timely reminder of the Christian roots of this Saints Day and its enduring relevance to this day

As we remember St Valentine

Above all we remember those we love romantically and God’s blessing upon our relationship

But as well as those we love romantically, the life of St Valentine reminds us that life can be brutally cut short

We also remember those we have loved today – and who are no longer with us

And there could not be a more appropriate time to be reminded of this

As the Archbishops of Canterbury and York reminded us last month

We have reached the dreadful figure of 100,000 dead in this country and this figure is still rising

As they said, this is not “just an abstract figure” but “someone we loved and someone who loved us”.  

And we remember them too

But the story of St Valentine and his clandestine marriages strikes an unlikely chord with our Old Testament reading this morning

The bow in the clouds reminds us, subtly, not only of God’s covenant with mankind, but those who have been persecuted for their love in our own age

Those whose love has also been clandestine and brought them into conflict

With our own authorities

In our own times

“From your Valentine” belongs to all men and women as an expression of romantic love

But is also a manifestation of God’s enduring love for all men and women, living and departed