The following is a sermon I preached at a friend’s wedding this Saturday past. I’ve changed the names to protect the innocent…or guilty…whichever fits 😉 I’ll say here that it was an honor to be asked to preach at this particular wedding and I was humbled by that honor. So, without further to do….A Sermon for a Wedding:
Today is a great day! Look around you. There is beauty, and joy and excitement; all things that make for a great day. Still, I’m lead to ask: Why are we here? No, I don’t mean existentially speaking, but practically speaking. Why are we here today, gathered as we are?
Some of us are here because we’re family; some of us are here because either Renee or Joseph (or both) is a dear friend; some of us are here because, well, we’re just the “+1”. But no matter what brought you here or how (or why), there’s one bond tying us all together here today: we were asked to be witnesses to this wonderful and beautiful union between Joseph and Renee. And we desired to be those witnesses, to watch and listen as these two profess and confess their love for each other, because deep down, we’re all true-love addicts…and we might as well face it.
Some part of us gets swept up in the alluring words of King Solomon read this morning, “My beloved speaks and says to me: ‘Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away, for behold the winter is past; the rain is over and gone’” (Song 2:10-11). Our hearts twinge with a deep abiding hope that there is a love that “many waters cannot quench…neither can floods drown it” (Song 8:7a). We want true love to be real, concrete, visible and physical; and so we come, because there’s no better place than at a wedding to receive a reminder and to rekindle the flame of hope that true love is actual and not merely conceptual.
This desire is so deeply ingrained in us that those of us who are otherwise rather rational and logical spontaneously [like me] shed tears as Renee processed, arm and arm with her father or as Joseph saw his beautiful bride for the first time today; there’s no other explanation for that type of abreaction than a desire for real, true-love embedded in the subterranean recesses of our being.
So we’re here, wrapped up in remembrance and enraptured by the hope of real true-love. And we’ll witness shortly as Joseph and Renee exchange vows comprised of heavy words: they will make true-love promises to each other: I will love you through sickness and health, through richness and poorness, through the bad and the good, until death. But it’s not only the words they will proclaim to each other that play on our heart strings, reinvigorating that desire for true love, but the words they don’t say.
Embedded in the vows is the subtext of an unspoken question and an answer. Will you forgive me? And the corresponding answer is always: Yes. Yes, I will forgive you. And this, this forgiveness defined and shaped love is the true-love we are all looking for; to be unconditionally loved at our worst, in our mess and brokenness right now, as is, where our nakedness is exposed yet there is no shame. To receive the love, to quote Mumford and Sons, that “will not betray you/Dismay or enslave you, [the love that] will set you free/Be more like the man you were made to be” (Sigh No More).
Yet, though we desire this level of love, and came here to be reminded of it, it seems impossible, this unconditional, one-way love manifested in unrelenting forgiveness. And if you look at it purely from a human, horizontal, level, it is impossible; humans in and of themselves are incapable of this type of love.
So, how is it that Renee and Joseph can make such big promises to each other, to confess this depth of unconditional love? St. Paul gives us a clue in the reading from Colossians, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col 3:12-13). Joseph and Renee can stand and look each other in the eye and promise to unconditionally love and forgive each other because they’ve been unconditionally loved and forgiven by Christ; this is the beginning of true-love, of loving and forgiving each other in real time, over and over again, day after day.
So, this wedding serves another purpose than just the public proclamation of love and forgiveness between two people; it’s about a greater love story that is the foundation of Renee and Joseph’s love story and that which embraces it. And so, by coming here and attending this wedding you were thrust on to center stage, not merely a witness or supporting actor, but as a primary actor in this greater love story. And this greater love story is played out over and over and over again at wedding after wedding after wedding; it is this love story that has echoed through the halls time to the present day and into the future.
For this wedding is about Christ and His bride, His people, us, whom He loves so much that He will hand His body over for her (John 3:16). This wedding is the acting our of the great and profound mystery referred by the priest just moments ago. This wedding is about how much God so loves us; about how He enters into our mess and brokenness and proclaims to us (repeatedly) love and forgiveness. To our unspoken question: Am I forgiven? His answer to us is always a resounding: Yes! You are forgiven and I love you!
His vows to us are fulfilled (always); His promises never fall to the ground. No matter how bad things get, He never abandons, the union is never put asunder; “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt 10:9). St. Paul proclaims and reaffirms in the book of Romans,
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? …No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:31-35, 37-39).
God, through Christ, has joined, has wedded himself to us in such a way that is forever and never ceasing even when we walk away or turn our backs. This is true love! True love has given Himself to us by no merit of our own; we are truly and fully loved by, in, and through Christ completely. And nothing, absolutely nothing can or will ever separate us from that love.
Today is truly a great day.