Valentine’s Day decorations are still up in windows, on shelves, and in the 75% off aisles of Target and Market Basket. Yet, less than a week beyond the day, it all seems a bit half-hearted and tattered. If love is strong, such things are a nice extra, but not necessary; if love is not strong, even extravagant trimmings can’t fill the void.
It’s a truth we all know but don’t often say aloud: love has to be more than a fleeting feeling and a paper doily heart. It’s time for something constant and substantial, something strong enough to steady our feet and grow us up.
It’s a letter that was never meant to be reduced to romantic love, no matter how often it is read at weddings. It’s Paul’s letter to an entire community that was playing the Whose gift is best? game. As we view Valentine’s Day in the rearview mirror and move forward into Lent, let’s take another look at this old, old-fashioned love letter from Paul…
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. But as for prophesies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.
For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully even as I have been fully known.
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
I Corinthians 13, NRSV