'Many waters cannot quench love – neither can the floods drown it.' Words from the beautiful biblical poem Song of Songs . Brave words when so much of the country is underwater and thank God trustworthy and true ones. Love is tough, bears all, overcomes all and is enduring. Soggy love is about as appealing as soggy carpets and there are plenty of those around at the moment. But real love makes a difference and changes lives. But what is love?
W.H.Auden asks the same question in his poem that parodies romantic love; “When it comes will it come without warning, just as I’m picking my nose? Will it knock on the door in the morning, or tread on the bus on my toes? Will it come like a change in the weather, will it’s greeting be courteous or rough? Will it alter my life altogether? O tell me the truth about love”
So what is the truth about love for us in our relationships- with family, friends, with God? I is a word that is very easy to say but much harder to actually live What is it that couples are doing when they join hands and exchange rings? What do they teach us about love and what does Christ teach us. Four words come to mind. Commitment, vulnerability, honesty and ordinariness.
Whenever a couple publicly declare their love for one another, their commitment to one another, their cherishing of one another, it is a risk. It is a risk that makes them vulnerable both to one another and to us. They are opening their hearts to us and in front of us and they are opening their lives most fully to one another. There is no hiding in love, no pretence. There is reality, frailty, honesty and of course joy. And there is ordinariness. There are wonderful occasions like a wedding day which will always be part of their life together but there is also the mundane things that make our lives what they are – putting the dustbins out in the rain, clearing up when the cat's been sick... it isn't all chocolate and roses – there are a lot of stale biscuits and stinging nettles as well! They are intertwined and it is love that intertwines them.
It's the same in worship when we express our love for God- there are the highs of wonderful music,in packed churches with vibrant prayers. And there is evening prayer said on a cold dark tuesday with by two or three faithful souls huddled together over a single candle. But the thing is they both matter. The great moments are wonderful, but it is in the routine that we steadily tune our lives to love and worship. It is in the ordinary that love becomes a way of life.
And Jesus in his life and ministry shows us the meaning and power of love in his commitment to the needs of others. He told ordinary parables, ordinary stories about the Kingdom of God, the place and the time where love is most fully itself. It made him vulnerable and it cost him his life. But it is on the cross where love bleeds, where love suffers that we see the truth about love, and we see that it is costly.
The love of God nailed to the cross by and for the very people who thought they knew all about love but they saw only raindrops not the oceans in the heart of God for each one of us and for all creation. They limited God's love to those who were religious and kept all the rules of the law – they didn't see or want to acknowledge the love overflowing for the outcasts, the failures, for the ordinary folk like us. Love isn't limited and it isn't static. It's a journey- it's our life's work, it's God's gift- it's all those things and more and we are not expected to be able to define it or articulate it, we are invited to be drawn into it and to draw others in and to rejoice that love cannot be defeated. Love lives on. Love bears the marks of the nails but it doesn't stay crucified. It rises and it lives on. It cannot be destroyed or diminished,for in the words of Sydney Carter it is a dance and the dance goes on.
On this Valentines day, lets pray for all couples,and for one another that love may bring us joy and sustain us, day by day, in the light and in the darkness of our lives. On the celebratory mountain tops and in the plains of routine. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it – but if they threaten to – turn to those around you for they are walking with you . Turn to Christ who died for you and whose love is your protection and your strength. And we will turn to you as well.
And now three things remain- faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love.