Ask any priest who has done weddings for a while and he will tell you that today’s Second Reading from 1 Corinthians 13 is one of the most popular passages of Scripture for weddings. Brides and grooms love this passage. Taken by itself, it sounds like a beautiful piece of poetry, a hymn to the glories of human love. What many people fail to realise, however, as they choose this passage, is that 1 Corinthians 13 isn’t about love between a man and a woman, not specifically anyway. It is about love among Church members, struggling and stumbling through the painful process of trying to be together the Body of Christ.
These Corinthian Christians had been fighting with each other over everything: power, prestige, teachers, orthodoxy, supernatural experiences, places in Church, and St Paul is tired of it. He writes to correct these Corinthians and reminds them that they are members of one Body, that they have been called not to exalt themselves but to glorify God together.
We cannot really understand 1 Corinthians 13 without reading the passage that precedes it which was last week’s reading where St Paul compares the Church to a body with many parts. Are we all ears, eyes, hands, feet? He goes on, “Are all apostles? Are all teachers? Are all administrators? Are all prophets? Are all miracle workers?”
Of course not! There are no super Christians who possess every spiritual gift. It is only when we come together as a Church and pool our gifts as the Body of Christ that we can be that pillar of iron, against the excesses of our culture of which Jeremiah speaks or, as we might say today, that lighthouse that remains firm and filled with light in the middle of stormy seas. We do that as Church.
Only together can we be that inclusive community of which Jesus speaks in the Gospel reading that brings salvation to all peoples and be the place where Jesus dwells today. We do that as Church.
St Paul says we need each other’s gifts to effectively proclaim the Gospel. He then tells the Corinthians that he will show them a way of building up the Body of Christ that is open not to a few but to all of them and that is the way of love. The love of which he speaks here is not romantic love or self-absorbed love but sacrificial love that forgives, heals, speaks truth and doesn’t envy.
Love makes the world go round but it isn’t romantic love that does so but love that is sacrificial like the love of parents for children, love of spouses for each other, love of patriots for their country, love of Christians for the good of the Church. This is the kind of love that gives life because it is Christ’s kind of love. If we don’t find that kind of love around us, St Therese of Lisieux once wrote, then we should put it there. The vocation of every Christian, whatever other gifts we may have, is to show sacrificial love and build up the people and the Church around us. And if we don’t find much of it where we are, to put it there. Fr Andrew