The Month of Love
This is the month in which we celebrate Valentine’s Day, the day honoring romantic love, and subsequently, happens to be a month in which there are a lot of weddings and proposals for marriage. This past weekend I was with a young couple planning their sacred event and we were talking about the vows. They were trying to decide whether to use traditional ones or write their own and they asked me what words I thought were important to say and if there was a wedding that I remembered because of the vows. I immediately thought of one from my first parish.
Ronny and Peggy were in their early twenties when I met them. Members of the local community, they dropped by the church where I served to ask about having their wedding there. I explained to them that non-members of the church who wanted to use the building for their wedding were asked to attend church a couple of times, to get to know the folks in church and to allow the church folks to get to know them. They attended worship a few Sundays and discovered that they liked the community and decided to join.
Not long after first meeting the couple, Ronny was diagnosed with melanoma that had spread to his liver and lungs. He started aggressive treatments and the wedding was postponed. It became clear soon after the treatments began that his prognosis was not good and the three of us had many conversations about whether or not marriage was the best option for them. After a few months when they were given a terminal diagnosis, the cancer having spread to Ronny’s brain, they both came to me with the prayerful and clear desire to go forward with their wedding.
It was decided to have the ceremony during the church service on a Sunday morning. This was the day when the entire community was gathered for worship and became a wedding service in which we all made a promise to love and care and stand with each other from that day forward. There were love songs sung by the choir and the congregation; and my sermon was based on a psalm that begins, “Though I walk in the midst of trouble,” and goes on to say, “I will trust in God’s steadfast love.” We talked about choosing to walk together even if the path is laden with trouble and difficulty and as the couple made promises to walk together, the congregation made them as well. There were tears of joy and sorrow and I will never forget the intimate and deep connection I felt with the couple and with the gathered community. I felt as if the wedding was completely about love and that the church was really being church. Promises were made in truthfulness and as I came to see, were kept. It wasn’t too many months later that Ronny died, his wife at his side, his church family close by.
As I shared this story with the young couple planning their ceremony, I saw their surprise and sadness. It probably wasn’t the wedding story about meaningful vows that they were hoping to hear; but it is the one that I will never forget.
This month as we celebrate romantic love at Valentine’s Day and at the weddings we’ll attend perhaps we have offered to us the chance to be mindful of the kind of love that goes a little deeper than romance and involves a little more than just saying some words. For surely, to promise love takes more than just two people and more than just repeating something written on a piece of paper. Real love, like a memorable wedding, pushes us to promise our care, concern, and presence to each other even as we walk in the midst of trouble. Because if we can’t walk that walk, then even if the words are poignant and beautiful, we really shouldn’t talk the talk.