We love weddings. It’s a time of great joy and celebration. As the months and years pass by, we often look back at a wedding as a key point in someone’s life; one of the central, defining moments in all that they do, and all that they experience. And why is marriage so important… why are weddings so special? Why do people go through so many months of decisions and planning and, probably, some arguing, for the sake of one single day? Even in a culture where people are now less likely to get married than before, choosing instead to simply be ‘partners’ or whatever other term we want to use, for many, there is still something magical, even fairytale-like, about weddings. Why? Two words – True Love.
Love is something which is talked about all the time… in movies, songs, parents to their children, lovers over a candle-lit dinner… yet it’s one of those things which we may feel always eludes us. I read this quote somewhere – ‘True love is like ghosts, which everyone talks about, although few have seen.’ And not only is True Love hard to find… it’s just as difficult to describe. How do you put into words something as deep, rich, mysterious, profound and wonderful as love? But given all this, still somehow, if nowhere else, we feel that at a wedding we witness true love in all its beauty.
1 Corinthians 13 is a very popular passage of the Bible to have read out at weddings, because the words there are seen to capture something true about love. It pains a picture of that wonderful thing called ‘love’. And what we see as we read these words is that according to the Bible, love, at its very core, does not depend on the person who receives it. Consider the way that passage begins to describe love: love is patient and kind. Full stop. There are no conditions to it. To be loving is to be patient with someone no matter what. Whether they’ve made the same mistake for the second, third, thirtieth time, to love is to be patient with them. Love is kind. Full stop. Once again, there are no ifs or buts offered. To love is to be kind when you’re returning home from the most relaxing holiday ever in the Caribbean… but also to be kind when you’ve just been laid into by your boss at work, because you’ve been blamed for somebody else’s mistake, and you come home to find that your husband has been watching tv all day, the house is a mess, and your favourite mug has been broken by the kids.
Love, according to the Bible, is patient and kind. Always. Not because the other person has somehow earned it, or because they deserve it in any way. The passage goes on to speak about love not being self-seeking, not easily angered, keeping no record of wrongs. Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. No ifs, no buts, no becauses. The one who is loving will be those things, regardless of what happens.
This is reflected in the classic Anglican wedding vows. ‘I take you to be my husband/wife, to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part; according to God’s holy law. In the presence of God I make this vow.’ Or to paraphrase – I will love you no matter the circumstances. I will love you, no matter what happens. I will love you no matter what you are like. Nothing the wife does can break that promise made by her husband. Nothing the husband does can break that promise made by his wife. The only thing that matters is that each one upholds the promise they make that day. Neither can say to the other, ‘because you did this, because you did that, I don’t feel like loving you… being patient with you… being kind to you… I won’t trust or persevere’ They have promised to love the other, no strings attached. Anything less than that is to fall short of the Bible’s view of what love is.
Now you might think… seriously? Who could ever live up to such high standards? Who could ever get married, make those vows, and ever hope to keep them? Held up to these expectations, surely not one single person in the world could be considered truly loving. Maybe sometimes we could be like that… but always!? Well the good news is found in another very popular wedding Bible Passage in the letter of 1 John. There, we read that ‘God is Love’. He is patient. He is kind. He is not self-seeking, keeps no record of wrongs, always protects, always trusts, hopes, perseveres. Because God is love, He promises to love us, no matter what we are like, no matter how selfish we are, how angry or unkind. No matter how unloving we are compared to Him, He says, I promise to love you. When Jesus came earth as a human, he came as God’s love, a love that persevered even though he was hated, a love that did not waver when he was betrayed and murdered on the cross. At the end of the day, the Bible is not saying that you must be loving and this is how you must do it. Instead, the Bible says God is love, and he wants you to be loved. He wants you to enjoy his love for you.
God’s love for us is like a marriage proposal. He says, I want to love you, no matter what. He asks us, ‘Will you marry me? Will you accept my love for you?’ At a wedding, we witness two people who have accepted another’s promise of love and responded in kind. The question for us is, how do we respond? What do we do with the God who says, I love you, even though you’re not perfect… I love you, not because you’re wonderfully loveable, but I love you… because I promise to do so.