Love that never ends

February 13th, 2019

Walk into any grocery store or drugstore right now, and you’ll be met with an explosion of red and pink hearts, enormous stuffed animals, and giant boxes of chocolates. My email inbox is full of restaurants and other venues advertising special dinners and events for two in mid-February, a sign that our culture’s liturgical observation of romantic love, Valentine’s Day, is fast-approaching. Whether you are partnered and celebrating or think the whole thing is made up by the greeting card industry, these are the messages that we receive about what love looks like. Love, particularly romantic love, is about jewelry, chocolate, and champagne.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with having a special day designated for showing a little extra affection for someone, but if our only idea of love is the one that is propagated by the Valentine’s Day Industrial Complex, that’s a problem. Not everyone is partnered, and holidays that focus on couples can be painful for those who are single or who have recently lost a spouse. Plus, the couples whose relationships are most inspiring to me are poorly represented by a large red Mylar heart balloon.

Those of us who follow the Revised Common Lectionary were treated to Paul’s treatise on love from First Corinthians a couple of weeks ago. It is a passage that is familiar to the point of banality thanks to its frequent use at wedding ceremonies. But hearing it in the context of the gathered worshipping community on a Sunday morning, these verses sound different and closer to Paul’s imagined audience, the church in Corinth which was wracked by argument and division.

Directly before this passage, Paul has told the church that no gift is better or more honorable than another; they are like parts of the body. But this is the real thrust: no matter what gifts an individual has, if they do not have love, it is all for naught. The greatest gift of the Spirit is love, and its fruits are patience and kindness. Love rejoices in truth. It is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love never ends.

There are certainly ways in which this is true of romantic love as well, but to narrow this passage to that particular circumstance is to lose the breadth of love that is available to us in this world and as part of a Christian community. In 1 Corinthians, love is about community, not a couple. The local church community has often privileged ministry to the traditional family unit at the expense of neglecting those who don’t fit into the mold — those who are single, divorced, widowed, or have a non-traditional family structure. With an increasingly mobile and transient society, even if someone has an extended family, they may be geographically distant.

As a pastor, I have had the privilege of seeing the love of a community in action: love that is manifest in fighting for justice and equality; love that keeps vigil at a bedside when death is imminent; love that cares for other people’s children. It might not be the kind of love that our culture celebrates on Valentine’s Day, but it is a love worth recognizing and lifting up. The love that never ends is a love that includes, not excludes. It is a love that we know because we first know and are known by Christ.

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