A common passage for weddings is 1 Corinthians 13, yet this passage causes many pastors to groan. The problem with this passage, however, is little more than a bad association. 1 Corinthians 13 is wonderful fodder for the wedding day, and the rest of wedded life, too. Frankly, 1 Corinthians 13 is a wonderful passage for the rest of life, period! Paul’s words are good counsel for navigating any meaningful relationship.
Many pastors will protest that when Paul said, “Love is…” he was not talking to an individual couple, he was speaking to an entire community. True. Furthermore, they will protest that he was not speaking to a community enthralled by love, but a community torn apart by divisions. True, again. Those facts, though, actually have plenty of points of contact with every couple making their vows on every wedding day.
Every meaningful relationship is a miracle, yes. But every relationship has also been visited and threatened by conflict. Every couple making their vows have found themselves in the same spot as the folks in Corinth whom Paul wrote to nearly two-thousand years ago. Threatened by conflict, and all too keen to use power as the world defines it to end the conflict. And the couple will still experience these moments even after their wedding day.
That means, a well-chosen passage full of words that provided guidance in the past, will undoubtedly prove true in the future. Be they for an entire community, or a community of two.
I recently witnessed this over the screen of my phone, of all places.
As with many churches, since March of this year, the one where I serve has moved to weekly at-home, online services to try and approximate the weekly assembly. To try and capture a sense of community, we asked lectors, or church readers, to submit a recording of themselves reading the Scripture.
A few weeks ago, the passage was - you guessed it - 1 Corinthians 13. I had a few ideas for the sermon, but nothing that piqued my interest. The submission we got for the 1 Corinthians reading, though, practically preached itself.
The first thing I noticed about the reading was the reader’s beautiful backyard. It was large and faced to the West, and as she read, the sunset put any stained-glass window I’ve ever seen to shame. The next thing I noticed was the chorus of birds in the background, providing a powerful and inspiring accompaniment to the reading. Then, at one point, our reader got choked up as she read. Finally, to top it all off, when she finished, and it was time for her husband to respond with “thanks be to God,” he missed his mark. Presumably, he was distracted by who knows what. I like to think his distraction came from his own experience of those words in holy matrimony.
It was all so sweet that I couldn’t help but show my wife the video that evening. As I watched the reading again, there were some details I hadn’t noticed before, less glamorous details. I noticed the roots in our reader’s hair. Like most people, she hadn’t been able to get into the stylist for a few weeks. I also noticed a little slip up at the beginning of the reading. And finally, the sadness of it all dawned on me too, that a little recording that will at best be played over television, is what was going to have to suffice for our weekly assembly.
Yet none of those apparent shortcomings obscured the glory of that moment one whit! All those supposed deficits only served to better reveal the glory of those words our lector had recorded herself reading earlier that week!
When it comes to God’s word, our help only obscures this power and grace.
Overwhelmed, I sent a little text to our reader saying as much, and she sent back a text of her own. She had noticed all the tiny imperfections, too. She didn’t feel right wearing a hat for the reading of Scripture, so she let her roots show. But she added, “The perfect image didn’t matter so much anymore. God showed his majesty through it all!”
She was right. Through it all, the good and the bad, his word still stood in grandeur.
The temptation at weddings is the same in the rest of life, too; to give God a little nudge. To help God out. To prop up God’s glory. We do this with champagne fountains as readily as we do it through the other countless mundane ways we go about trying to smooth over the rough edges of life. As Saint Paul and countless sinner-saints after him have learned, though, God’s grace is sufficient. God’s power is perfected in weakness (2 Cor 12:9). When it comes to God’s word, our help only obscures this power and grace.
Yes, unaided, our eyes cannot behold this upside-down glory. Witnessing it is always a miracle, and miracles are what Jesus specializes in!
In his earthly ministry, Jesus was known to heal the blind and even opened up a stuck ear or two. Now that Jesus has ascended to his heavenly ministry, he is no less interested in such healings. True, they often come in the last ways and the last places the world would tell us to expect. Such is our paltry approximation of power. But when these healings happen, they are as unexpected as they are welcome, and the joy they bring in their wake eclipses it all!
Those seemingly imperfect details in the reading of God’s perfect word only served to show the power and grace of God better.
Watching that video one last time as a part of our at-home worship, the pieces came together. Indeed, those seemingly imperfect details in the reading of God’s perfect word only served to show the power and grace of God better. And for a moment, although I was hearing them at home and not in the sanctuary, the glass Paul says we all look through for the time being, wasn’t as dim.