Every year I have the opportunity to officiate about a dozen weddings. It’s an honor really, to stand with each couple in a sacred moment when they enter into a marriage covenant before God and their gathered family and friends.
Because each couple has their own personality, every ceremony should be unique in its own way. With that in mind, when I meet with couples to plan their ceremony, I have a list of questions I ask to discern their distinct interests and style.
On more than one occasion I’ve asked the soon-to-be bride and groom, “Are you looking to have a particular scripture passage read at your wedding?” More than once I’ve heard, “No, we think we want something, but we don’t have any ideas right now . . . Except for 1 Corinthians 13. Let’s not do that. It’s so played out.”
It’s true. This chapter of scripture may get read more than any other at weddings, so I certainly empathize with couples who want their readings to stand out.
There’s only one problem. Although we often place it in a romantic frame, the first epistle to the Corinthians wasn’t written to a married couple. It was intended for a group of early followers of Jesus struggling to elevate the needs of others over their own. Read the four most famous verses — 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 — again:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
On the one hand, these are transcendent and poetic words. It’s a vision of love worthy of our aspiration, isn’t it? At the same time, if this is the gold standard for what it looks like to treat others in my life with dignity, honor, and respect, then I’m falling terribly short daily.
I don’t remember when or where it happened, but I heard a preacher once encourage this reflective exercise: read these verses out loud again. Only this time, replace the words “love” and “it” with your first name. What are your first reactions as you hear these phrases this way?
I cringe when I hear these words in my own voice: “Steve is not self-seeking, he is not easily angered. Steve keeps no record of wrongs.” This morning I struggled to discern why it’s not nearly as true as I want it and need it and yearn for it to be. I may have found a clue in my daily reading of a chapter from Proverbs, in this case chapter 28. Verse 14 reads, “Blessed is the one who always trembles before God, but whoever hardens their heart falls into trouble.”
Could it be that there’s a direct correlation between hardness of heart and one’s posture before God? I was never great at math, but I believe these are inversely proportional, as my humility (“trembling before God”) decreases, my resentment (“hardness of heart”), and corresponding lack of love, keep right on climbing.
I can’t love well when I won’t still myself before the God who claims Love as a title. I can’t give away love that I haven’t received and can’t extend a love I haven’t engaged. So here’s a challenge to myself: rather than working harder to muster up feelings of love that may or may not be there, what might it look like to simply rest in the shadow of a God who claims to love me more than I currently comprehend.
Maybe in that place my hardness of heart will melt in the warmth of a Love that always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. And maybe we’ll begin to see that “overused” wedding scripture in a new (and challenging) light.
Bonus: check out this fun “video liturgy” a friend and the Kensington film team put together for this passage.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com.