It seems obligatory at this point, that Paul's words to the Corinthian church are chosen to express the fullness of the love of bride and groom: Love never stops being patient, never stops believing, never stops hoping, never gives up. (1 Corinthians 13:7)
The words effortlessly pour out of the mouth of the reader or leap from the mouth of the priest. Full-throated he reads the words, as if they demand to be told. And why not? Is there any greater expression of love than when a man and woman come together to begin husband-life and wife-life?
The words ground everyone in something that's reachable. A love between husband and wife that never stops being enough. Except, Paul's words aren't about marriage. At least not the marriage of a woman and a man. They're not intended to draw bride and groom together in an expression of love that marks the beginning of their life as wife and husband.
Jesus says it simply and clearly: God is love. And since Jesus is God, Jesus is Love. When we talk about love like Paul does, we're talking about Jesus. Concrete, real, flesh on the bone love. This is a love that none of us can ever hope to achieve. It's almost incomprehensible when we stop to think about it. Reflect again on Paul's words: Love NEVER stops being patient, NEVER stops believing, NEVER stops hoping, NEVER gives up.
Who could ever claim that they NEVER stop being patient with their beloved, NEVER stop believing that whatever they do their beloved is worth it, NEVER stop hoping for the best for their beloved, and NEVER give up on their beloved? None of us, if we're honest with ourselves, can make this claim. At best, we can say we do our best. But, Paul doesn't say, "Do your best to love each other without limits or measures." He says, "Love NEVER stops."
The Bible asserts that there's only one who NEVER stops loving us. God never stops loving us because God is love. There's no distinction, no division, no separation of God and love. God and love are synonymous. Any talk about love that is not talk about Jesus is, at most, a half-truth.
That's why the Church confesses with absolute certainty that the whole truth is this, that only Jesus never stops being patient with us. Only Jesus never stops believing we’re worth saving. Only Jesus never stops hoping for our comfort and peace. Only Jesus never gives up on us.
Jesus is our strength even though our weaknesses are so strong. He's there to guard and protect us because the battle with sin, death, and hell can often seem un-winnable. When the war in our heart, mind, and body threatens to overwhelm us He doesn't give up or let go of us. When we're afraid, He comforts us. He's our rock when everything under us heaves and erupts. Jesus always stands behind, beside, and in front of us because He's God, and God’s love embraces and surrounds the whole of us.
He doesn't give up on us so that we can take our life and do as we please with it. Surrendering us to temptation and sin isn't an option for Jesus. When our burdens get harder and harder to carry, He bears their weight for us.
Some people might fight with us to make a better tomorrow. Jesus fights for us every day whether we’re standing on the mountaintop basking in the sunshine of life or crawling through the valley of the shadow of death on our belly.
When our body is in pain and the temptation to quit creeps into our mind, threatening to shatter our sanity, Jesus steadies us. He will not leave us behind to suffer without hope. Whatever things we leave hanging because we don't want to face our fears, He gives us courage to pick up and deal with. He's with us until the final heartbeat drops and the first strains of the angel chorus greet our ears in the resurrection.
God's love unites us as a Church. He gives us words to pray to Him and preachers to declare the Gospel to us. There's nothing vague about God's love for us. It's concrete and real. It's wrapped in simple earthly words, water, bread, and wine. God's love fights and dies and rises from the dead for us. There’s nothing of earthly sin, death, or hell that God’s love hasn’t conquered for us.
Our love for God and each other becomes impatient. We struggle to believe. We lose hope. We give up. We get tired of the fight, so we quit. We get complacent. We settle for good enough and even that eventually isn't enough. Eventually, the last drop of love that we have will be expelled from us in a final exhalation of breath. No matter how well we love, our love dies with the rest of us.
But God is Love, and Love NEVER stops being patient, NEVER stops believing, NEVER stops hoping, NEVER gives up. God’s love for us never rests, never quits, never stops giving us hope that no matter who we are, what we become, or where we end up, we’re worth saving from ourselves, the world, and hell.
Now, reflect one final time on Paul’s words, but this time as they relate to Christ Jesus:
I may speak in the languages of humans and of angels. But if I don’t have Jesus, I am a loud gong or a clashing cymbal. I may have the gift to speak what God has revealed, and I may understand all mysteries and have all knowledge. I may even have enough faith to move mountains. But if I don’t have Jesus, I am nothing. I may even give away all that I have and give up my body to be burned. But if I don’t have Jesus, none of these things will help me.
Jesus is patient. Jesus is kind. Jesus isn’t jealous. He doesn’t sing His own praises. He isn’t arrogant. He isn’t rude. He doesn’t think about Himself. He isn’t irritable. He doesn’t keep track of wrongs. He isn’t happy when injustice is done, but He is happy with the Truth. Jesus never stops being patient, never stops believing, never stops hoping, never gives up.
Jesus never comes to an end. There is the gift of speaking what God has revealed, but it will no longer be used. There is the gift of speaking in other languages, but it will stop by itself. There is the gift of knowledge, but it will no longer be used. Our knowledge is incomplete and our ability to speak what God has revealed is incomplete. But when what is complete comes, then what is incomplete will no longer be used. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, thought like a child, and reasoned like a child. When I became an adult, I no longer used childish ways. Now we see a blurred image in a mirror. Then we will see very clearly. Now my knowledge is incomplete. Then I will have complete knowledge as God has complete knowledge of me. So these three things remain: faith, hope, and Jesus. But the greatest of these is Jesus. (1 Corinthians 13:1-13)