“My song is love unknown, my Savior’s love to me, love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be. Oh, who am I that for my sake my Lord should take frail flesh and die?” — ELW 343
You may have heard that in Inuit (who some call “Eskimo”), there are 50 words for our one English word “snow.” Some of you may know that there are four words for “love” in Greek, two of which are used in the New Testament. The first is Ἀγάπη or Ἀγαπάω (Agapē or Agapaō) which is the kind of love that Jesus shows to God his father and the kind of love that Jesus shows to us. This is unconditional love in its truest sense. It is used 259 times as a verb or a noun in the New Testament.
The second word is Φιλἐω (Phileō) which means brotherly or sisterly love. This is why the city of Philadelphia is know as the “city of brotherly love.” It has the nuance of feeling added with affection, emotion or fondness that one has for another. It is used 54 times in the New Testament.
Εροσ (Eros), an erotic love, although thought to be in the New Testament, is never actually used, and Στοργή (Storgē) appears once, alongside Phileo, and pertains to the natural love one might have for their child or spouse.
The reason for this language lesson is that we might not all mean the same thing when we say the word “love.” It can mean something different at different points in a relationship. Two teenagers saying they “love” each other holds a different meaning than when the words are spoken at the death bed between a husband and wife.
The only way we can even begin to understand love is because God first loves us. Even though at times this may be the hardest type of love to understand, it is the purest. It is the unconditional love that God shows to all of God’s children. A while back, I preached on John 3:16-17. David Lose, who was my preaching professor in Seminary, translates 3:16 this way, “God so loved the God hating world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” In John’s Gospel, it seems clear that “the world” is against God. But God loves the world so much that we hear in verse 17, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
This month we will see love expressed in two very different ways. On Wednesday, February 10th, at 7pm we enter into the season of Lent on Ash Wednesday. It is the night that we are reminded of our human frailty and that we are dust and to dust we shall return. Where we are reminded of our death, as it says in the funeral liturgy, a direct quote of Romand 6.5 “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
February is also the month that contains Valentine’s day. For many, this is a schmalzy love kind of day filled with candy and overpriced roses (or at least that’s my opinion—sorry, Sarah). This year it falls on a Sunday. And two things will happen that day that are great expressions of love. The first is that we will have a renewal of vows after each service. All couples whether married 6 months or 60 years are welcome to gather together, uphold each other as couples and affirm the vows they made in marriage. The second act of love will be as God’s agape love is showered upon Emet Lynn Welch through the storied waters of baptism.
As you think about love this February, think about all its varied meanings, and most importantly, do not forget about the love God has for you.