If you walk down the main shopping street in Woodbridge, Suffolk, you’ll come across a chocolate shop. And like nearly every other chocolate shop at this time of year it’s got a themed St Valentine’s day display. The implication is if you want to show proper love, then you need to buy some premium chocolate and give it to that special person in your life. Failing that I hear Nurses, Doctors and the Clergy are grateful recipients!
If you then walk around the corner, you’ll come to church that has a large glass floor to ceiling doorway. It too has a display for St Valentine’s day. There’s a small table laid for tea for two with cakes, some red hearts, a tea set and chairs. But the difference is in a frame to the right. There are some verses from this Sundays Epistle reading from 1 Corinthians 13. They are such well known words but they bear repeating in a modern translation: “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.”
Of course the first window follows that modern interest in consumerist romantic love. That’s about what you can get back. We hear terms like investing in your relationships. We expect that in romantic love, if you are really truly in love – everything will be easy like cycling downhill on a warm sun kissed summers evening; and if it’s not; you need to buy some more premium chocolate! It’s investing to get something out. Many of us realise that our modern notions of love are too shallow and differ massively from those we find in in the bible, particularly from Jesus.
I wonder how we might re-write Pauls’ list for today. Perhaps something like: Love does not rush, love gives you time, love respects you whoever you are, Love is not in it for what it can get, love only wants to give.
Psychologists will tell you about how a long term romantic relationship will change and develop over the years. Those initial blushes across the room and hesitant conversations develop into friendship and commitment that in turn matures into deep seated companionship. Paul is saying that just like that development our understanding of the love of Christ, and our experience of it will also develop. But it’s not just how we receive God’s love that’s important, it’s our calling as well. Love bears and believes and hopes. It reaches out and turns strangers and neighbours into friends and companions.
Perhaps Paul when he wrote these words had the words of Jesus in his mind:
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34)
Love is the foundation of our faith; it is also our calling.