Like many Episcopalians, I was immensely excited to hear that our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, would be preaching at the Royal Wedding. The news was a really nice bright spot in what seems like an endless barrage of violence and cruelty that seems all too normal. I wasn’t sure if I’d watch the wedding, because I’m not particularly interested in the British Royal Family (though I am *highly* interested in the fashion that accompany these functions), but I decided to at least watch for Bishop Curry’s sermon. We cannot underestimate the potency of the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church making an address to one of the remaining bastions of imperial power in the world. The fact that Presiding Bishop Curry would also be preaching after the Episcopal Church was more or less punished by the rest of the Anglican Communion for affirming LGBTQ people was also not lost on me.
And the Presiding Bishop did not disappoint. He could have made it a standard, droll wedding address about love between two people, but instead he spoke (for 13 glorious minutes, much to the disappointment of many dusty white people) about the radical, transformative power of love in Jesus.
I’m still digesting Bishop Curry’s words, especially this paragraph (emphasis mine):
“Oh, that’s the balm in Gilead! This way of love, it is the way of life. They got it. He died to save us all. He didn’t die for anything he could get out of it. Jesus did not get an honorary doctorate for dying. He wasn’t getting anything out of it. He gave up his life, he sacrificed his life, for the good of others, for the good of the other, for the wellbeing of the world, for us.
That’s what love is. Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial, and in so doing, becomes redemptive. And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives, and it can change this world.”
Bishop Curry brought the fire to St. George’s Chapel!
I admittedly get a little cynical when I hear love talked about in this way, if only because the world has made me so skeptical, so unconvinced that we can truly do anything other than hurt each other, sometimes in the very name of ‘love’. This isn’t the unselfish love spoken of by the Presiding Bishop, but rather love of power, love of money, love of nation, love of war. Humans are deeply enamoured by the things that are slowly killing our neighbors and ourselves. But, Bishop Curry reminded me, Harry and Meghan, and the millions of other people watching via livestream that it doesn’t have to be this way. Jesus offers an entirely different avenue than what we assume are the only ways forward.
I’d like to think that the Presiding Bishop wasn’t just preaching to Harry and Meghan, or even to the millions of spectators enjoying the Royal Wedding, but also to the Church. The Church so often forgets what Jesus’ self-emptying, unselfish love looks like. The Church, across denominational lines, censors or sanitizes the dissenting voices of people of color, women, disabled folks, and queer and trans people within our ranks out of a desire for “unity” because we are not content to gather crumbs from under the table. The Church loves being in proximity to power. The Church hoards its wealth or spends it impractically while its own employees live in debt. The Church is not often willing to take big risks for love, because love comes with repercussions – changes in power, redistribution of resources, discomfort – that it doesn’t want.
But, as Bishop Curry said, love is precisely what Jesus died for. It’s what his whole damn ministry was about. A love that embraces everyone, even at the cost of its reputation. A love that gives without second thoughts. A love that is willing to speak the truth, even when it means suffering through uncomfortable consequences. A love that puts itself on the line.
Yesterday was Pentecost, one of my favorite days of the church year. We sang a lot of my favorite hymns, including “Come Down O Love Divine”, which left me a weepy mess. I was struck again by the words of the Prophet Joel in Acts:
“This is what I will do in the last days, God says:
I will pour out my Spirit on everyone.
Your sons and daughters will proclaim my message;
your young men will see visions,
and your old men will have dreams.” (Acts 2:17, GNT)
The Spirit of Love is still being poured down on us. Those words keep my hope alive, that we can, as Bishop Curry said, harness the power of sacrificial, redemptive love and truly transform this world, if we want to.