1 Corinthians 13:1-13
February 27, 2022 A+D
The Holy Marriage of Amelia Joye Garnett and Quinlan James Wall
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Faith, hope, and love have been unmoored in the modern world. They are thought to exist on their own as abstract, nebulous goods without actual content. This thinking can make us feel superior to others. It helps us to excuse our selfishness. We do what we want but blame it on love, call it hope or faith. That false comfort disappears in the dark. It poses in the virtual world, in cyberspace, as sophistication and light. It makes for nice yard signs and bumper stickers, but when a man comes face to face with his mortality, when he has to actually face those that he has wronged, or when his wife leaves him, the lie is exposed and the consequences are devastating.
Read rightly, however, faith, hope, and love are of great comfort. They give Christians the strength to face what must be faced, to do what must be done, to love who and what must be loved. They are three aspects of the singular reality that we are reconciled to God in Christ. Faith, hope, and love are realized and embodied in Him.
How is it that these virtues become disembodied? Let me give some examples. If you’re in a 12 step program, faith in anything will do. There is no content to it, no real higher power. We are told that recovery requires faith not religion, nor doctrine, and that no one should judge your chosen object of or for faith. The power of faith isn’t in the object of faith but in the person believing by virtue of his believing. When faith does work to assist in overcoming addiction, it is simply a tool. The Bible, however, teaches that faith needs to be in Jesus Christ. He is Lord and is risen from the dead. It is not simply a tool to improve our lives. It is life.
In a similar way, recent years saw the word “hope” become a presidential slogan. If we looked at it for more than a second or two, we would see that it was just optimism for the sake of optimism. It could have been used by either party because it was without content. The unstated premise was that the world is and must be improving, and that our candidate, or our cause, will propel that along. The power is in humans. Hope, in that context, is the claim that we can conquer evil through our ideals and commitment. Again: it is a tool.
Love is the worst of all. In this sad, secular, selfish world, love typically means whatever makes me feel good about myself or brings me pleasure. If I call it love, no matter how violent and unnatural it might be, it is claimed to be good and therefore above reproach. But here there is content: it is the self, with all its base desires and wickedness. That is what fallen men love.
In 1 Corinthians 13 we learn that faith, hope, and even love, all by themselves, apart from Christ, might have some civic goodness about them, but they probably don’t. Typically these are simply masks used to justify immorality or to manipulate the world and silence those who would warn us of danger. The devil quotes the Bible. He knows how to use good words for bad things.
Don’t be fooled. Don’t make your religion about what seems reasonable to you or feels right. Don’t define what God should be based on Cosmo or the Republican party or the philosophy hidden in Star Wars and Family Guy. Be a rebel: go by the Bible.
The Holy Spirit saw this coming. Paul is emphatic that faith has no intrinsic value of its own. Considered all by itself, even a faith that is sufficient to move mountains or stop addiction, is nothing. Hope that is bold enough to give away all of its material goods is also nothing if it isn’t hope in the reality of Jesus Christ, driven by and for love.
That is why love is greater than faith and hope. It is not because love has perfected what faith and hope lacked, that they were somehow incomplete. Rather it is that love embodies the person and work of Jesus Christ for the life of the world. Faith apprehends this. Hope anticipates and expects it. Both are absolutely necessary, essential. Love doesn’t exist apart from faith and hope. The time will come, however, when faith and hope will change. We will see God face to face. We will know Him as He now knows us. We might still speak of living by faith, but that will be quite a different experience in heaven than it is here on earth.
Hope will be in a similar situation. We will no longer be waiting, but will have come to the beatific vision. Hope that sees isn’t hope the way we know it now. It will change. Thus both faith and hope will remain, abide, but as they are fully realized fully they will be changed.
But what we experience now in the love of Christ will not change because He doesn’t change. Our love for Him will be fuller then than it is now, but it will not be different. Now, of course, our love for Christ is clouded by sin and doubt, but His love for us is not. He loves us fully and perfectly and always has. We love Him back in joy and gratitude. We, who have had many sins forgiven, love much. This love will grow but it will not change into something different than it is now. It will not change because the object of our love does not change. There is not more forgiveness in heaven than there is now, here, in the Church on earth. In this sense, then, love is greater than faith and hope.
1 Corinthians 13 is not meek poetry, exaggerated as Robert Burns’ false promise to walk 10,000 miles. Nor is it some fantasy ideal only for fairy tales. Love is a reality in the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. God became a Man in order to lay down His life for His enemies and forgive those who persecute Him. This is how God loves the world.
He suffers long and is kind; He does not envy; He does not parade Himsel. He is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek His own advantage. He is not provoked, nor thinks evil. He does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth. He bears all things. He believes all things. He hopes all things. He endures all things.
Faith, hope, and love are a singular gift from God. We love Him because He first loved us. He was driven by love to rescue us from the devil, the world, and ourselves. Love made it necessary for Him to be delivered to the Gentiles, mocked, insulted, spit upon, scourged, and crucified. And love lifted Him up out of the grave on the third day to take us as His holy, innocent, forgiven bride. The cross of Jesus Christ is love. We seek Him and His Kingdom above all else because this is what abides forever.
What has this to do with Holy Marriage? Everything. The bond of holy marriage is not completely unlike the two natures of Christ. The interpenetration of the human by the divine is so thorough and complete that there is truly, and literally, one Christ. God creates and bestows a mystical union upon a man and a woman so that they are one flesh. This is a supernatural reality, not unlike the Sacramental Union wherein Christ unites His risen and living flesh with bread so that His children might do far more than bread as a reminder of what He once did. He institutes the Sacrament so that we might be joined to His flesh, made His Body, by the forgiveness of sins, and enjoy an actual participation in His Flesh with Him. If you put the bread under a microscope, all the human eye can see are molecules of bread, but the Body of Christ is there for faith to see and for the heart of faith to receive. So also if you put a man and his wife under microscopes, you will see no physiological change, but if you burn one the other weeps, if you bless one the other rejoices. They are, in Christ, truly one flesh. They are bound in love, living by faith, in hope that God Himself will sustain them and keep them forever.
A cord of three strands is not easily broken. Matrimonial love is ordained in heaven but it comes at a cost. It is meant for more than enjoying one another’s company or mutual benefits. It is a bond with God Himself, based on God’s Word, born in and acted out in sacrifice. It is the Divine instrument of procreation and fruitfulness. All of that is costly and has little to do with happiness or self-actualization. It has everything to do with selfless giving and service. It will hurt when you fail or your beloved fails. It will hurt when the children rebel. It will even hurt when it goes well, when the children behave but grow up and go away. We expect it to last all the way to death and when it does we rejoice but that hurts too. Matrimonial love is Christological, sacrificial, joyous and beautiful but like all things Christ gives in His mercy, costly.
Though we shall be changed in the resurrection to come, this love abides forever. Quin and Mia won’t be married in heaven. They will be like the holy angels. But their love will abide: three cords strong. What we see now is a reflection. It is an accurate image, but it is only two dimensions. In heaven we will see it directly, fully. It will be purified and amplified, brought to its final destiny. Faith, hope, love, these three abide; but the greatest of these is love. The cost is unworthy of comparison to the glory that will be revealed.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.