Sunday, February 21, 2016

Surprised By Joy

Wedding Of Terry & Sian

Readings: Song of Songs 2:8-10, 14, 16a; 8:6-7a; Psalm 144:8-10, 15, 17-18. R. v. 9; 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:8; John 15:12-16

Terry and Sian, my dear friends, I think you’re probably familiar with the American comedienne, Ellen DeGeneres. You probably also know that she hosts her own TV talk-show. Simply called Ellen. Well, I recently stumbled upon the tail-end of an episode of Ellen, where she had tricked one of her fans onto her show. And then surprised the unsuspecting woman with a generous gift. A brand new car. A Chevrolet Malibu. Which was something that the fan really needed. Since her current vehicle had a cracked windshield, and was more than a hundred years old. I exaggerate…

In any case, you can imagine the fan’s reaction to the gift. To say that she was overjoyed would be an understatement. She couldn’t stop shouting and screaming. And jumping up and down. The gift was clearly something that she appreciated very much. That she had not expected it at all, only added to her delight.

Now I can’t say for sure, my dear friends, because I only just met them a few days ago. And I apologise if my perceptions are completely off the mark. But it seems to me that there is something of that same joy in both Sian and Terry. Of course, in my brief meeting with them, I did not witness any shouting or screaming. Or jumping up and down. I’m not sure if they ever do that. Do you? …

No, their joy is of a quieter, more mild-mannered sort. Quieter, and yet unmistakable. And, like what I saw on the talk-show, I think it comes from realising that they have each received a precious gift. A gift that they both appreciate tremendously. And perhaps also a gift that delights them all the more, because it appears to have come when they weren’t quite expecting it. Again, I may be wrong, but I tend to think that the readings that you, Sian and Terry, have chosen for this celebration actually tell us the story of this gift. And of this joy.

The first reading speaks of a Lover seeking his beloved. Calling her from her hiding place in the clefts of the rock, in the coverts of the cliff. And the Lover persists in his search. He keeps calling to his beloved. Until he finds her. Until she comes out to meet him. Now it is perhaps natural for us to immediately equate the Lover with the groom. And the beloved with the bride. But I wonder if that’s really how you, Terry and Sian, interpret the text.

I expect that most of the rest of us already know how Terry and Sian met, right? And I trust that I am not betraying any confidences by revealing this. As you know, they bumped into each other on an online dating website. So, in a sense, they were both searching. And they both found what they were looking for. And yet, perhaps it is just as true that they were also each waiting to be found. Each waiting to be called from out of their respective hiding places. And not just called by one another. But called, especially, by Love. Called to be loved. And to return love for love.

Which explains why there is an obvious joy and delight in them, now that their search has been rewarded. Now that they have each found true friendship. True companionship. True Love. Love that has come to them, first of all, as a gift. And isn’t this really what the second reading tells us about Love? That it is a gift. We know the passage well, of course. It is a popular one. Especially at weddings. But I daresay that we often read it only as something like an instruction manual. Telling us what we ought to do. Love is always patient and kind, the reading says. So we too must be patient and kind. Something like that…

And yet, before it is a responsibility and a task, something that we ought to do, Love is first and above all a gift. That is how the reading begins. Be ambitious for the higher gifts. And I am going to show you a way that is better than any of them. For St. Paul, Love is not just a gift, but the highest gift. It is not something that we can manufacture for ourselves. Not by our eloquence, or our intelligence. Not by our faith, or even by great feats of sacrifice. For if I even let them take my body to burn it, but am without love, it will do me no good whatever. Much as we hunger and thirst for it, we cannot generate Love for ourselves. We can only receive it as a gift. A gift from God. Freely given. And requesting a free response.

Isn’t this what you, Terry and Sian, are celebrating today? Isn’t this the reason for your joy and delight? The same joy and delight that you are inviting the rest of us to share. It is a joy and a delight at the realisation that you have both received a tremendous gift. Perhaps it is a gift that has surprised you. I’m not sure. But a gift nonetheless. And perhaps this explains your choice of the responsorial psalm. A song of gratitude for the goodness and generosity of God. A proclamation of how worthy our God is to receive our praise. For all the good things that God has done and continues to do for us. All your creatures shall thank you, O Lord, and your friends shall repeat your blessing

And isn’t all this the indispensable preparation that we need to hear and to understand what the Lord Jesus is telling us in the gospel? This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you. Indispensable, because we cannot love as Christ loves unless we first allow ourselves to receive, to experience, and to rejoice in the love that he has showered upon us. We cannot truly lay down our lives for our friends, unless we realise and celebrate the way in which he has first laid down his life for us. The way in which he has accepted and recognised us as his friends. Isn’t this this the deep Mystery that we are celebrating at this Mass?

I have no idea what that woman did with the car that she received on the talk-show. But I’d like to imagine that she did with it what it was manufactured for. That she used it in all the different ways a car is meant to be used. Ferrying herself and her family and friends to and from wherever they need to go. For that is probably the best way in which we can receive a gift. By using it to the full.

And perhaps what is true of a car is true too of Love. We receive it most gratefully, when we live it to the full. When we do whatever is necessary in the days ahead to remain in the Love of the One who was gracious enough to call us his friends. And to lay down his life for us. So that we too might lay down our lives for one another. 

Terry and Sian, my dear friends, what must we do to continue joyfully receiving and living in Love today?

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