by Dale Reeves
It’s that time of year when I’m getting promos on my phone for the upcoming Valentine’s Day . . . hotel getaways, weekends in exotic places . . . and a free dessert (either Biscuit Beignets or Double Chocolate Fudge Coca-Cola Cake)—“perfect for sharing”—if I bring my lifelong Valentine to Cracker Barrel sometime next week. Which dessert to choose? In the words of Ursula, the sea witch from The Little Mermaid, “Life’s full of tough choices, iddin it?”
It’s that time of year when everyone will be wearing pink or red. Have you ever stopped to think about the symbolism of the color red in its association with Valentine’s Day? Most of us just assume that red is the color of the heart (and pink and white look nice alongside it), and that’s why it is the official color of the holiday. We can thank our preschool and kindergarten teachers for getting us to cut out pink and red “Valentimes” hearts from construction paper at an early age. But is there more to the color red than that?
Red is the color of heightened emotions. We think of a stop light or a stop sign, or even the sinister red hourglass you see on the back of a black widow spider. Red is a color of warning. It is also linked to a wide range of different emotions such as anger, love, aggression, and passion. In an NFL football game, a team’s head coach can “challenge” a referee’s call by throwing out a challenge flag—which is bright red. When the flag is thrown on the field, this triggers an instant replay review of the previous play. And, depending on the outcome of the challenge, the head coach’s face may become bright red!
Roses Are Red
Is there something deeper to the predominant use of the color red in association with Valentine’s Day? This holiday dates back to ancient Rome. Their festival of Lupercalia was meant to celebrate fertility, and they did some very strange things to promote fertility. Animals (usually goats) were sacrificed, then their blood was smeared on the foreheads of the priests. Afterwards, the blood was wiped from their foreheads with wool soaked in milk. The skin of the sacrificed animals was touched to women in hopes of increasingly their fertility.
In the fifth century, Pope Gelasius I renamed the holiday St. Valentine’s Day and moved the date of celebration to February 14. Though a St. Valentine was beheaded on February 14, in part, because of his belief in Christianity and his willingness to help Christians who were persecuted, some legends hold that multiple people by the same name have been executed on that day. So, in this case, the color red primarily makes us think about blood.
Greek mythology also offers an interesting explanation for the connection of red to love. According to Greek mythology, Aphrodite, the goddess of love, deeply loved a mortal named Adonis. As Adonis was dying, Aphrodite rushed toward him, stepping on the thorn of a white rose in the process. Her blood stained the white rose completely red, and according to myth, this was the first red rose on the earth.
Christ’s Love Bled Red
Something that isn’t a myth, something that is absolutely 100% true is the unchanging, eternal truths we find in God’s Word, the Bible. Many people have called this Book, “God’s love letter to us.” You may own a copy of the Bible that is called a “red-letter edition,” named that because all the words directly spoken by Christ in the Gospels, and in a few other places, are printed in the color red.
Twenty-five years ago, the Christian band dc Talk sang these words:
“There is love in the red letters,
There is truth in the red letters.
There is hope for the hopeless,
Peace and forgiveness,
There is life in the red letters.
The more I look the more I see
The Word of God is what I need.
It’s the book of love.”
Our staff at Christ’s Church, along with many other members in our church are currently engaging in a Bible study called, “Red Letter Challenge,” by pastor Zach Zehnder. It is a 40-day discipleship challenge based on five main principles in Jesus “red letter words.” There’s still time for you to get in on this great experience. Wanna know more? Check out redletterchallenge.com
When Jesus Christ chose to willingly become the ultimate sacrifice for our sins on the cross, the animal sacrifices that took place in the Old Testament were no longer needed. The book of Hebrews tells us, “Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28, NLT). In several places in the Bible Christ’s Church is referred to as the bride of Christ. It’s all because of Jesus’ shed blood on the cross that our sins can be washed away, and we can be pure as white in his eyes. We read in Ephesians 5:25-27, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (NIV).
It’s all because of Jesus’ love and his sacrifice that someday his followers will wear white robes in Heaven. It’s because “they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14, NIV). So, wear that red and white for Valentine’s Day this year, giving praise to the One who shed his crimson blood on the cross for you, that you might be blameless in his sight.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
I will make them as white as snow.
Though they are red like crimson,
I will make them as white as wool.”
—Isaiah 1:18, NLT