This afternoon I will be marrying a 75 year-old widower to a 70 year-old widow. This is a wonderful privilege for any minister-type person, but no less a challenge for all that. Afterall, they have each built and sustained a marriage that lasted a lifetime, so what can a minister, especially a single one, say?
They have chosen 1 Corinthians 13 as their Bible reading (yawn) and in the KJV (aaaargh!) so that presents an interesting challenge its own right. Perhaps the way the word 'charity' (from Latin caritas) has changed in meaning is no more of a hurdle than the merry slide to 'love' as 'eros' rather than 'agape' when using contemporary translations?
In the end, I have gone for something loosely based on C S Lewis's concept of 'The Four Loves,' affection, friendship, romantic/sexual and religious/Christian which I am interpretting as 'aspects of love' in a more holistic sense.
Many of those at the service will not be churchgoers; those who are will include several widows/widowers and not a few with difficult or failed marriages. The need for care seems more self evident than ever.
As part of my attempt to make it accessible and 'not too heavy but still meaningful' I will be using four symbolic gifts to the couple as part of my talk: -
- Affection: a pair of mugs and a packet of Batchelor's (nice irony there) Cuppa Soup (remember the tag 'You only get a hug from a Batchelor's Mug'?). Affection is warm, everyday, practical and understated. It is also wide-ranging and inclusive.
- Friendship: a small brass statuette of two people walking side by side from SPCK (which my sister and I wickedly still refer to as the Society for the Prevention of Christian Knowledge, based on a childhood misapprehension about organisations called the SPC-anything) which happens to match C S Lewis's image of friendship as open and inclusive of others with shared interests.
- Eros: (not that I will use that word!) a fairly traded candle with a heart design. Eros as exclusive, private, intimate, tender and vulnerable
- Agape: (another word I won't be using!) a Salvadorean cross. Agape includes the love of God and the love of neighbour (the "great commandments" as stated by Jesus) which the Salvadorean cross expresses powerfully. Ironically this most special kind of love is not the narrowest but actually a connecting point back to the affection with which we began - a nice mystery for the theolgoians among us (though I won't say that either)
I hope and pray that this wedding will be the start of a successful marriage. It is good to see the way in which this relationship has blossomed and how there has been a mutual give-and-take in expectations during the courtship phase.
I hope also that those for whom the occasion is bitter-sweet will find some source of inclusion, embrace and encouragement for their own lives.