"Love is patient, love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." (I Corinthians 13:4-7)
I read those words many times when I officiate at a wedding. I look at the young (and not so young) lovers standing in front of me, their eyes glazed over, sweat most likely dripping down somewhere, and wonder if they actually have a clue as to what they are getting themselves into at this wedding. A wedding is a romantic event for many and reality has little to do with it. It is something we do because it is traditional. The parts of the wedding ceremony themselves were originally civil agreements between a father and a man who wanted to take the daughter of the father away from him. The daughter often had to have a "dowry", money or possessions that would guarantee that the man who was taking the daughter as his wife was getting a good deal from the transaction. The language we use in weddings is civil language from a time when women were treated as possessions and she was "given" by a father to a man who would feed and clothe her so that the father no longer had to provide for her. That is why she had to bring something into the marriage so that the man who would be responsible for her would have something tangible to begin this new agreement.
"Who gives this woman to be married to this man?" was once the question asked at the beginning of a wedding. We no longer ask that question. Instead, we ask who presents the woman. We changed it when the church decided that the original question treated the woman as a piece of property. We also used to ask the woman to say she would "obey" the man as part of the vows. We dropped that about the same time as when we decided she was not property of anyone and did not necessarily have to obey her husband. Women became persons with equal rights and the ceremony we have today reflects that idea. Husband and Wife are partners in this marriage proposition and we now try to express that idea.
Paul's words to the church at Corinth were not originally written for a wedding. They were written to a contentious group of people at a city at the crossroads of the ancient world. People of many varied backgrounds lived together and the early church there was made up of this mixture of folks--slave and free, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, Jews and Gentiles--and Paul wanted them to treat each other as equals, an idea that was not widespread in the ancient world. The idea that one would love another person that was a casual acquaintance or a church member was a new one too. You may have loved your spouse, although arranged marriage was more the rule than the exception, but loving others outside of a marriage was not something many people talked about. Paul's letter to the church expanded the idea of love to include everyone in your circle of acquaintances, and especially those in the church to whom the letter is written. So, Paul defined love for them and named all the attributes of what made love real.
What a tall order it is to love others if we truly think that Paul's definition is relevant for our lives. Being patient and kind is not always easy, especially where certain persons are concerned. The list of does and don't continues so as to make it clear that truly loving others means that one gives up the right to have things as one desires and gives in to the needs of others. Love does what is best for the others in life and allows them to have the benefit of the doubt. Love is a tough sell when one really wants to take Paul's words literally.
Those starry-eyed lovers stand stiffly in front of the officiant of the wedding ceremony, waiting to hear the words, "You may kiss the bride" so that they can be announced to those present and go down the aisle to the reception to follow. Most likely, they will remember little of what was said or done in the marriage ceremony. They will truly learn about love in the years that follow if they try to put part of Paul's recipe for loving into practice in their lives. The vows used often say it as well as Paul said it..."for richer, for poorer;for better, for worse; in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish"--in all those situations, loving another person in the best and worst of times is what truly makes a marriage work.
Happy Valentines Day to all of you loving people and to all of you who want to be loving people. Love does conquer all when it is truly at the center of our lives. Love is really what has to do with it all.