Commemoration: Valentine, Martyr

If you look in the front of your LSB, on pages xii and xiii (before the Psalms), you will find a list of commemorations. Commemorations are days set aside in the church year to remember the saints God has given to His Church, partly as examples to imitate of faithful living (and dying), but most importantly as witnesses of God’s great mercy to His people across time and nations. Commemorations, like the more commonly celebrated feast days, ultimately point to Jesus Christ and His saving work.

Today’s commemoration is one of our more famous–or at least secularly-known–ones: Valentine, martyr. Saint Valentine of Rome ministered to the Christians persecuted in Rome in the third century as both a physician and a priest, and February 14th is the anniversary of his martyrdom. The particular charge against him is unclear, as is the mode of his passing; one thing people seem to agree on is that he died a martyr at the command of Emperor Claudius II and was buried the same day, on the Via Flaminia road between Rome and Rimini.

Legend has it that he wrote a note of encouragement to his jailer’s child on an irregularly-shaped piece of paper the day he died, signing it “from your Valentine.” Another very old, popular story claims that he was arrested for marrying Christian couples despite the emperor’s prohibitions against it, especially for those serving as soldiers. Valentine’s Day became associated with courtly love in the Middle Ages, and it is entirely possible that Valentine refers to two–or even three–different martyrs of the same name, their stories conflated over time.

Rev. Larry Wright, in his chapel sermon this morning, focused the commemoration precisely where it belongs:

“Christian martyrs do not confess themselves. Rather, they confess the one whom they believe, and that is Jesus Christ Himself…Valentine was not sainted because of the number of miracles he did or did not perform. No slight of hand or greeting card trick made him a saint. Rather, all saints are sainted in the same way: they are made holy, they are born again; not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding Word of God…

“Rejoice! You who are saints see the cloud of witnesses–their lives of faith encourage and surround us. We do look to witnesses, prophets, martyrs, and saints who stood in the faith, whose faces, some of which we will never see in this world, and some of those even tiny faces who we shall never forget. Yet even more we look to Him in whom they placed their faith, even Jesus Christ our Lord, who was made manifest in these last times, for our eternal sake. Amen.”

“Saint Valentine Baptizing St. Lucilla” by Jacopo Bassano, 1500s.