One of the most popular bible readings for a wedding begins Love is.
Taken from St Paul’s first letter to Corinth; (1 Corinthians 13) love is paints an uplifting picture that promotes positive virtues while shunning harmful behaviour such as envy, boasting and wrongdoing. What Paul doesn’t cover here is – suffering. This Sunday is the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. Jesus’ parents have taken him to the Temple where they encounter Simeon, a man who had been promised sight of the Lord’s Messiah. Recognising in the baby Jesus the fulfilment of this promise; Simeon breaks first into praise and then prophesy (Luke 2:22-38). Speaking first of the conflict that Jesus will evoke, he then turns to Mary, adding and a sword will pierce your own soul too. I have read this passage many times over the years, but it is only now that I realise; Simeon makes no mention of Jesus’ suffering – it is Mary whose soul will be pierced.
In the marriage context, love is what binds us together; helps make two into one. Parental love involves letting go. Children grow and make their own way in the world. Part of that growing is separation; part involves making mistakes; part is being hurt. Their pain and suffering is not our failure. Soon Mary and Joseph will flee into exile. In years to come she will spend anxious days searching Jerusalem for her lost son (Luke 2; 41-51). Finally she has to watch as the horror of the crucifixion unfolds; surely a piercing sword. Yet all this, though she could not see it, was essential to his purpose.
Once, when Jesus had spoken of his coming death, Peter had taken him aside and said God forbid it Lord, this must never happen to you. We all know Jesus’ famous retort, Get behind me Satan. (Matthew 16:23). We know, too, that on the night of his arrest Jesus agonised in prayer over his coming trial. Jesus certainly doesn’t seek suffering, but accepts it as part of his purpose. Only after the resurrection can any of us see the blessings his suffering brings.
We all want the best for those we love. We all want to shield them from harm. Letting go feels like loss, watching suffering is painful. A sword will pierce your own soul too. Pain can be the price we pay for love. Mary was to learn that love and suffering went hand-in-hand; a sign of maturity, not failure. Sometimes we must learn it too. Love is many pleasant things – love also hurts.
Rev Philip Payne Feast of The Presentation
The Notice Sheet for 29th January can be found here