Madeline Suzanne Roberts
William Thomas Collins
15 June 2013
John 15: 9-12/Tobit 8:5-8/Love’s Growth by John Donne (at end of the text)
Here we are! Your wedding day has arrived, and on behalf of all of us who have been invited to witness and bless this day with you, thank you for including us. We might all be doing other things: mowing the lawn, gardening, riding, working out at the gym, or simply lying about the house reading a good book.
Instead, we have this time together as a community of God’s people to contemplate the nature of God’s love in Christ Jesus. As the prayer book says at the outset, marriage is a sign of the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church. Later we will pray that your life together be a sign of Christ’s love to a sinful and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair. There can be no doubt that the world as we know it today must benefit from people like the two of you gathering all of us to take a few moments to consider the nature of God’s love and our role in God’s world.
The short passage from John’s Gospel depicts Jesus the night before Good Friday – the night before he is to die. It is part of a longer passage called The Farewell Discourse in which it becomes clear that his focus is not at all on his own fate, but on the future of those who follow him. I love you as much as God loves me, he says. Abide in my love – a rather old fashioned word, abide. It can mean rest, stay, remain, dwell – dwell in my love. Which we know for Jesus was a giving kind of love, and a growing kind of love. We are to dwell, set up household, live in His kind of love.
One of his principal followers in the late 16th early 17th century John Donne writes about the growing nature of love in his poem, Love’s Growth. He claims to know love in a deeper way than most poets who simply muse on love rather mawkishly. Donne gets inside of the seasons of love, its spring times and its winters. The more I contemplate Donne’s words, it seems to me he is examining the intersection of divine and human love, a love “which cures all sorrow with more,” as those with Jesus that night he spoke to them about the need for a community of those who love one another as he and God love this world they created came to know so well. And O, how Donne makes those connections between divine love, human love and the intricate workings of the cosmos, connections even the world’s top physical scientists are discovering anew with a mystery and a wonder that is breathtaking.
We have for some time now placed the Hubble Space Telescope hovering above this world for which God in Christ has such deep love, searching for a glimpse of our origins, for a glimpse of the beginning, be it a Big Bang, or a command like, “Let there be….” We seek to catch a glimpse of the divine love at the origins of all we know. Just like us to undertake such a search. Very much like the great adventure of Tobias and Sarah in Tobit, seven long years and more seeking a quiet moment of abiding love in what is unquestionably one of the most exciting and surprising love stories ever written- when all the time, it is here, today, in this place, in our midst. To catch a glimpse of love I ask the two of you to simply turn around for just a moment and look into the face of love. In perhaps the second most important words of this ceremony next to your vows, each and every one of this august crowd you have intentionally gathered about you has promised to do all in their power to support the two of you in your marriage. All. Not some, not a lot, not what they feel like, but all that is in our power, we pledge to you. That is some kind of power and some kind of love.
“Love sometimes would contemplate, sometimes do,” writes Donne. Take a just this moment to contemplate and feel the love that quite literally surrounds you on all sides – and remember, that Jesus promises you even more love than all this. It’s a bit much to take in, but as time goes by, it will sink in that abiding in all this love is a pretty good deal.
In a few moments you will exchange vows and rings and you will be married. Then we will pray. I always find that the marriage prayers work very much as Donne describes it, “If, as water stirred more circles be produced by one, love such additions take, those, like so many spheres, but one heaven make, for they are all concentric unto thee…” I find these prayers are like that, a pebble tossed and praying that the love of God and your love will radiate further and further from your life together to touch others, to touch the world, to be a beacon of the kind of joy Jesus hopes will yours and will be full from this day forward forevermore.
We have but a few moments to contemplate all this, but that is enough – enough to sustain you and all of us as we go back to doing all the things we could be doing right now, but thanks to you, Madeline, and you, Will, we have been gifted this time to remember all these things. Amen.
Love’s Growth – John Donne
I scarce believe my love to be so pure
As I had thought it was,
Because it doth endure
Vicissitude, and season, as the grass;
Methinks I lied all winter, when I swore
My love was infinite, if spring make’ it more.
But if medicine, love, which cures all sorrow
With more, not only be no quintessence,
But mixed of all stuffs paining soul or sense,
And of the sun his working vigor borrow,
Love’s not so pure, and abstract, as they use
To say, which have no mistress but their muse,
But as all else, being elemented too,
Love sometimes would contemplate, sometimes do.
And yet no greater, but more eminent,
Love by the spring is grown;
As, in the firmament,
Stars by the sun are not enlarged, but shown,
Gentle love deeds, as blossoms on a bough,
From love’s awakened root do bud out now.
If, as water stirred more circles be
Produced by one, love such additions take,
Those, like so many spheres, but one heaven make,
For they are all concentric unto thee;
And though each spring do add to love new heat,
As princes do in time of action get
New taxes, and remit them not in peace,
No winter shall abate the spring’s increase.