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St Valentine

As we have done in previous years at Little Paxton, we are holding a Celebration  of Marriage in church this sunday – it happens to fall this year on 14th February- rather apt. We hope that couples previously married in our church and those preparing to be  married will join us.

A homily for the occasion

I can’t let the day go by without a mention of Valentine. But before I do that – I wonder whether we have any romantics among us?

Anyone like to tell us how they have bestowed a gift upon a love done … or is that too personal a question to ask??

St Valentine – the origins…

Who quite Valentine was we shall never know for sure as there are so many legends surrounding early Christian saints – and Valentine is no exception. There is an extra problem with him because in early Christian times there were several Valentines about.

But here is one possibility:

We think the day named after a Priest who lived in 2nd century AD.  At the time Cladius 11 was Emperor of Rome and he was a cruel man. He wanted a big army to fight off his enemies and wanted all the young men to join his army. To that end, he forbade marriage so that young men could go off to war.

Valentine the priest thought this a cruel thing to do and secretly used to conduct marriage services in the cover of darkness. Until one day he was caught and thrown into jail. Whilst he was in jail, lots of the young people he had come to know and love him sent him flowers and cards and he become very close to the jailor’s daughter.  The story goes that he restored her sight and converted her father.  On the night before he was killed by the Emperor, he wrote a letter to her expressing his feelings for her.  It was on February 14th that he died c 270 AD

We think that’s how the idea of sending cards and presents to those we love on Valentine’s Day began – in honour of the brave and loving priest Valentine.

Others think that around mid February there was a Roman feast all tied up with fertility rights and that Christian priests wanted to suppress it and thus substituted Valentine’s feast day instead. That may all be tied in with the observation that in mid February birds begin to pair up.  Whatever the origins, we know that St Valentine’s Day was celebrated

In England in 1477 –  and Shakespeare refers to it in 1600 when he wrote Hamlet:

To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.

Ophelia

In 1797, a British publisher issued The Young Man’s Valentine Writer, which contained scores of suggested sentimental verses for the young lover unable to compose his own. Printers had already begun producing a limited number of cards with verses and sketches, called “mechanical valentines,” and a reduction in postal rates in the next century ushered in the less personal but easier practice of mailing valentines. That, in turn, made it possible for the first time to exchange cards anonymously, which is taken as the reason for the sudden appearance of racy verse in an era otherwise prudishly Victorian

Esther Howland Valentine, circa 1850:

“Weddings now are all the go, Will you marry me or no”

Another Valentine card dated  1862 read : “My dearest Miss, I send thee a kiss” addressed to Miss Jenny Lane of Crostwight Hall, Smallburgh, Norfolk.

St  Valentine has had extensive patronage – not surprisingly he has been regarded by some as the patron saint of affianced couples, greeting cards manufacturers. Lovers and happy marriages. Quite why he is the patron saint of bee keepers I’m not sure.

Other romantic traditions  have become attached to the feast – including pinning bay leaves to your pillow on Valentines  Eve so that you will see the person you are closest to in your dreams.

Whatever the truth of Valentine’s life – as with many of the early Christians, they lived their lives in complete faith in Jesus Christ and in service  to their fellow men and women. Even when Valentine was in the direst of circumstances, he was trying to help people and tell others about God’s love.

One of the things that is very special about being a priest is that people allow me to be part of their lives at very sensitive and emotional times. This might be at a baptism, at a wedding  or at a funeral. It maybe when someone in the family in very poorly. If I ever need evidence of Gods love being expressed in human love, it is at such times. I have taken 10 or so funerals since Christmas and without exception there has been a great deal of love and affection shown by  families and friends towards their loved one who has died. In many cases couples have been married for many decades and although I’m sure all couples have their ups and downs, ongoing and loyal love and caring is more often than not at the forefront of a long relationship. The moment when couples make their vows in a marriage service is invariably so precious and meaningful that I really do feel honoured to be there helping to make that commitment happen in front of family and friends. We know that not all marriages work out – and often that’s through no real fault of the persons concerned. Sometimes the chemistry just doesn’t add up over time.

But when relationship do survive the challenges of life and the promise to love and to cherish till death us do part holds up – then something very beautiful has been created and nourished I believe in Gods love.  Sometimes those relationships aren’t necessarily within the marriage context – but are none the less full of commitment and self-giving love and are just as meaningful and enduring. Which is why today we invite people to celebrate any relationship which has been special to them in the past or continues on into the future.

Valentine may or may not have existed as described above. But what I believe exists for all time is God’s love for each of us and his longing to be at the heart of all our relationships. May his blessing be on all of you who cherish and care for one another in any way. Amen

A parishioner posing on Valentine’s Day

February 13, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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