What is Love?
Somewhen in the past decade I lost track of the number of times I have preached on Paul's 13th chapter in the first letter to the Corinthians. It is one of those "greatest hits" readings that folks go for when planning their nuptials. I am not sure whether it is the fact that it is so powerful, beautiful really, in its syntax or whether it is that one reading that seems to mention love over and over with abandon that makes it so attractive. In the context of a wedding, it seems like such a romantic reading. After all, in those moments we really want to affirm that without love we are nothing but a clanging cymbal or a sounding gong...all sound and little to no substance. For weddings, we want and need to affirm a love between two people that does really hit that high mark. We want to see and celebrate a love that is lit from within, as Paul's words are so demonstrably adept at depicting. Love should always be like that...life with someone should always be like that.
As I preach this lesson, I ask folks to understand that while this excerpt is wonderful for wedding for all the right, romantic readings, we have to be willing to go to the deeper place Paul was writing from when he took stylus to parchment and rhapsodized on love to the Church in Corinth. Paul wasn't just speaking to a couple linked by romantic love. He was preaching to a whole community that had somewhere along the line forgotten what it means to live in Christ, and in community with each other in Christ. He has just spent 12 chapters enumerating for the Corinthians the departures in faithful practice that they had slipped into, marking with emphasis what corrections were needed. What did they need?
The sort of love that Paul is calling for the Corinthians, and us, to embrace and cultivate with each other derives directly from the inspiration of God's Holy Spirit and is to be found in the very marrow of our existence in the Body of Christ. It is the essential element that lies at the root of all the compounds of relationship from which we assemble our lives when we answer the call to live in Christian community. It is the source, as well as the delivery system, of reconciliation and acceptance. It is the font of hope and it serves as the taproot we need to give us the energy to change, to grow and to evolve. That love goes beyond romance, beyond the bright heat of desire and finds its being in a quiet wisdom that affirms a wedding vow that will only be broken by the separation of death itself.
We are willing to celebrate that love on wedding days; but are we willing as well to embrace that sort of love in the simple day-to-day struggles of living in community with.....everybody?
Yes, there is the rub...When Paul sings the praise of love in this letter, he is not just lifting up one moment from the life of one couple. He is challenging us to live into a kind of love that ignites our awareness that if we are to live in community with Christ and each other, then love is the greatest of necessities. Without it? Resentment, fear, contempt, harboring of wounds and slights...and more prevent us from any growth and cut us off from any hope that our lives will blossom in the Church.
So, the word for the day....and the challenge to embrace and champion....both noun and verb, emotion and action: