Sunday, 12 June 2011

A Wedding Sermon: How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways—For Evan and Deinera Cortens

…with reference to The Song of Songs 2:10-13, 8:6-7, 1 Corinthians 13;1-7, 13 and John 15: 9-17

Here we are celebrating a 21st century marriage using a 16th century Elizabethan English rite garnished with 17th, 18th century music and readings from Scripture that are even older—at least as far back as  the nine hundreds BC. This is a vintage wedding.

At the centre of it is Jesus, Lord and Saviour, often referred to in the Bible as the bridegroom. The church is his bride. Marriage was a part of creation—first appearing in Genesis chapter two: a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. So what we will witness Evan and Deinera doing today is, as EM Forster put it in A Room with a View, "a moment for which the world was made."

The word we hear most often through it all is love—34 times, to be precise.

“How do I love thee?” wrote Elizabeth Barrett Browning to her beloved, ‘Let me count the ways.”

Here are some ways of love we heard in the Scripture readings for Deinera and Evan and for all who love someone: first, from the Song of Songs, you use the word as a name for one another, a term of endearment.
Rise up, my love, my fair one, And come away.
And here we all are to witness the ultimate, divinely ordained expression of that call, Holy Matrimony, to wish them joy and to celebrate.

Here is another way love is, also from the Song of Songs:
For love is as strong as death,
 a most vehement flame.
 Many waters cannot quench love, nor can the floods drown it. If a man would give for love 
all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly despised.
Love is strong. Stronger than the grave. Unquenchable if you choose. Of infinite value.

If I count love out as St Paul writes in I Corinthians 13, the Love chapter, I’d be nothing and could gain nothing—even if I was an expert communicator, lover, husband or wife. Nothing.

St Paul goes on to provide something that sounds like a blueprint for love that counts in a marriage.

Love is patient and kind, not jealous or boastful or proud or rude, does not demand its own way, is not irritable, keeps no record of being wronged, does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance—even marriage.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways: Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

Love is the greatest way.

Jesus counts some more ways in the reading from John's gospel: “Remain in my love. This is my command: Love each other. Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

What Jesus, Paul and King Solomon are talking about is the John 3:16, God so loved the world kind (agape in the Greek) a love that needs no love in return, that is intelligent and purposeful, always directed to the need of the other. Jesus, way, truth, life and Bridegroom is the model. Love counts.

Although it was chemistry of romantic love (eros in the Greek) which initially drew Deinera and Evan together and brought them here today, it is the agape love—the word we’ll have heard more than sixty times by the time we’re finished here this afternoon—which results in long, delightful, rich marriages and, on the 11th of June 2061, Lord willing, a fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration. Mark your calendars.