Thought for the Week: 14th February 2021
Our thought this Sunday is by Louise Hampson
Today is St Valentine’s Day (the saint beloved of florists and chocolate makers!), a day in which love is on our minds. St Valentine’s story is a little uncertain – there are at least three early Christian martyrs with this name, and at least two were put to death by Emperor Claudius II in the 3rd century AD. One reputedly was executed because he defied the Emperor’s edict against soldiers marrying and continued to wed couples in secret. Other legends speak of a Valentine who helped Christian prisoners escape Roman torture and who fell in love with a gaoler’s daughter, eventually being betrayed by the letters he wrote to her signed ‘from your Valentine’. Whatever the real story, and real identity, the recurrent theme is love. But love can be many things. We can and do love people in many different ways, and it is not always equal or reciprocal.
The New Testament has at least three words for love, denoting the very different emotions which this word can cover: eros is the romantic, physical love of Valentine’s Day, which we hope is reciprocated, but many of us have teenage or perhaps later memories of the agonies of loving (or having a massive crush on!) someone who does not feel the same, or even know we exist; caritas, from where we get our word ‘charity’, is a magnanimous warmth and generosity towards others, a willingness to reach out and care for another even if they do not seem entirely deserving but for whom we feel a warmth and affection; agape is the third kind of love and the most dramatic. Agape is the complete abnegation of self in order to serve or help others, complete altruism, the most perfect example of which is Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for our sins.
Caritas is often interpreted as the ‘love’ meant in the passage in Corinthians I Ch 13, so beloved of wedding couples everywhere, a fusion made by St Augustine of eros and agape, where we feel a warmth and care for someone, but are also willing to do things for the without any expectation of reward. You could argue that caritas rather than agape is the love Christ had for his disciples, because they were his friends and family, but his love for us expressed on the cross is agape. It is an unconditional love which does not require any family or friendship connection, does not expect any personal benefit or reward, a love which is poured out in limitless quantities, not measured or apportioned according to how it is received or who receives it. The power of such love is amazing, transformative, life-changing and it is our Good News to share. We have seen in recent months the incredible effect of Captain Sir Tom Moore’s selfless desire to help others snowball into a multi-million-pound boost for the NHS and the inspiring of many others to emulate his example. That is the power of agape. That is the power of love.
As we move towards Lent and a time to reflect on our faith and how we serve God and others, we can be certain of this amazing gift, that God’s love for us is agape, unlimited, ever-present, as boundless as the skies above us. We can drink from that well as deeply and as often as we want, and it will never run dry. As we look towards the joy of the Easter story in the weeks ahead, a joy perhaps needed more this year than for many years since, we can reflect on our own ability to be God’s love in the world, to be the light which can shine into the hearts of others and kindle warmth, a love which goes far beyond chocolates and flowers to encompass all creation. Even if today for you has had a bit of eros, let’s all try to have a bit more agape in our lives.