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Love Bade Me Welcome

A Wedding Homily

File:Adrian Ludwig Richter 011.jpg
Frühlingsabend | Adrian Ludwig Richter | oil on canvas, 1844

Song of Solomon 2:10-13, 8:6-7

Zack Clemmons | 13 September 2020

Opening Prayer

Our Father and our God, we give you thanks and praise that we are gathered today for such an occasion as this. We glorify you for the love with which you love us, and by which you fuel our own love. Lord Jesus, we praise you that your love that is stronger than death. And Holy Spirit, we welcome you now, and pray that you would bind and unite Matthew and Olivia this day, and fill their marriage with the sweet fragrance of divine love. Amen

The Garden

Matt, Olivia, this is a beautiful day. It’s the kind of day when so many of the blessings and beauties of this life congregate and collide—promises made, vows performed, families unites, dear friends assembled, the solemn and joyful exchange of love.

It’s the kind of day poets and artists and even us ordinary folks sometimes try our hand at expressing. We write poems or paint paintings as we strain to name the deep goodness we encounter.  And it probably shouldn’t surprise us that Scripture, too, puts words to this wonder, especially in Scripture’s sublime love song, from which we heard read just moments ago. 

Come away, the bridegroom beckons, Arise, my love, and come away. And the first thing we might notice is that Love does beckons; it is a voice that shocks us out of our self-involved and sinful stupor, and then Love moves us; it takes us from where we are and teases us towards something new, something better. 

And where does Love take us? To a garden. 

Come away, for behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come. Your heart almost bursts to read these lines, and to sense in them the fresh beauty of the Spring of Love.  It is when we are enraptured by the beauty of a beloved we catch the scent of the fresh figs and the vines in blossom, that God is blowing our way a breath of the Paradise for which He made us. 

Because this is what God intends for you, and what he has always intended for all of us—that we would delight at all times in the boundless country of His endless goodness, that we’d take an evening stroll together and hear the cooing turtledoves and watch the light come through the trees. 

I hope you feel, today, right now, in this ceremony and in a moment as you make your vows, the fresh and fruitful Springtime of love. Breathe it in as one lungful of the love with which God loves you. And we who surround them this afternoon, see if you can’t also catch a whiff. 

A Love Strong as Death

Of course, anybody can get sentimental about the sweetness of spring and the joy of young love. It is real, and it is good, but it’s also not enough.  

I am sorry to say that the even sweetest day of the spring of love cannot sustain you through the long seasons of marriage. Spring gives way to the long heat of summer (or sometimes snow, as it turns out), the brittle aging of autumn, the bitter winter winds. The Bible does begin in a verdant garden, but it doesn’t stay there, and neither do our lives, because soon our sin, our selfishness, like an invasive and aggressive mold, infects everything and we’re cast out.

And you know, even today, that life is not and cannot always be a Spring garden. Even this particular wedding day has come at the end of a long season of waiting and uncertainty. For both of you, there have been jobs deferred, plans made and unmade, and there are destinations still to be determined. 

But these are only the expected difficulties of life. Your marriage will encounter struggles and pains and tragedies you could not and probably should not try to imagine. And to survive the seasons, your only hope is to be caught up in a love stronger than death.  

And the good news of the Gospel is that we have such a love. God’s love is not only the love that invites you to come away to the Garden of Delight. It is also the love that as Jesus says in John 15 abides, in famine just as well as feast. It is the love that draws near to our suffering, even in the flesh of Jesus the Christ. It is a love that bears a cross. It is the love that dies for the beloved, and still more that overcomes death. 

God is coaxing you into the Garden of Love, but I warn you, it’s a trap.

You’re entering a garden that is actually a furnace. It’s true, you are in the midst of love that is all fragrance and ripe figs, but you will see it also flashes as fire, and it cannot be quenched with many waters. Marriage will be, for each of you, the primary forge of your sanctification. God will use you to burn the dross from your spouse—not in some stereotyped nagging or neglect—but God will slowly melt away your vices and purify your virtues simply by demanding that you no longer live for yourself. You each will be the occasion of the other’s daily death to self, and God’s Spirit alone will bring the daily resurrection. 

No, he calls and coaxes you with the springtime love of this day, in order to draw you deeper into a life that is noble and demanding and difficult and lovely, and which will result in a still more glorious reality than we can yet imagine, of which the Springtime of love is but a foretaste. The Bible starts in a garden, yes, and it travels long in the valley of death, but by the power of our Lord Jesus’ death and resurrection, our story and the story of Mr. & Mrs. Avischious ends in a royal wedding feast. 

So I have for you, Matt and Olivia, a twofold exhortation: First, I exhort you to delight in this garden of love. Delight in the glory of this day, and these newlywed years. And when you wake up tomorrow and the next day awestruck at the wonder of the good gift of a beloved by your side, know that this too is the love of God made flesh. Look at one another with the starry, teary eyes of love and know that God loves you.

And second, I exhort you to go fearlessly into the further seasons of life, know that your marriage can and will be sustained by the only love that is strong as death—the love of God in Christ. Stoke the flame of by practicing together the disciplines of sanctification, and cleave close to Christ’s bride, the Church.

God, who is Love, is beckoning you both—come away, my beloved. Even as you seal yourselves to one another, set me as a seal upon your heart and your arm. Matt and Olivia, may your covenant love for one another participate deeply in the mysteries of God’s love. 

God’s love, which bids you welcome, and would host you at his table when you feel least worthy. Who gently calls you away, welcomes you to his table, and will supply your every need from the rich storehouse of his love.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

One reply on “Love Bade Me Welcome”

Zack, this is so beautifully moving and words for this couple to cling to and cherish the rest of their lives together.

Betty Hightower

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