Song of Solomon 2:10-13, 8:6-7
1 John 4:7-10
Friends, we have gathered here today to witness and celebrate the marriage of Susan and Daniel, and I am absolutely ecstatic. I was almost tempted to limit this part of the service to me repeating a few times that today is awesome and we’re all very happy, and leaving it at that. But Susan and Daniel have chosen three cracking Bible readings to be read at this service, and I do want to say something, very briefly!, about each of them.
The first reading comes from the Song of Solomon, that somewhat strange book of the Bible, a collection of love poetry that contains not a single mention of God. Its inclusion in the Bible has puzzled Jews and Christians for millennia. For most of history the idea that the Bible contained erotic verse was so shocking that people explained the poems as really being about the love between God and human souls, or between Jesus and the Church. Admittedly, this took a lot of doing. The second-century theologian Origen wrote ten volumes on the Song of Solomon in order to explain that it had absolutely nothing to do with human sexuality. Even Protestants, who usually insisted on the plain meaning of Scripture, ignored the plain meaning of this book and happily read other meanings into it. In the eighteenth century commentators finally started to agree that it might actually be a book of love poetry, but they weren’t impressed by it. One wrote that “it was written by Solomon when He was become Wicked and Foolish, and Lascivious, and Idolatrous”. The poor Song of Solomon had to wait until the twentieth century before commentators could read it on its own terms.
The Song of Solomon is a collection of passionate poetry that describes both the joy and the pain of romantic love. It contains passages of great physicality, which makes it very appropriate to read at a wedding. One of the things that we’ve said about marriage is that “the companionship and comfort of marriage enables the full expression of physical love between husband and wife.” The Song of Solomon celebrates that physical love. Contrary to centuries of interpretation I believe that the reason the Bible contains this book is because such passionate love between couples is encouraged and blessed by God. Married couples can rejoice in love that is as strong as death and worth more than any amount of wealth. Daniel and Susan, I hope that you’re able to enjoy and celebrate your love as ardently as the characters in the Song of Solomon do. I don’t suggest that you use the same descriptions that the Song of Solomon uses; I don’t suggest that Daniel describes Susan’s teeth as “like a flock of shorn ewes that have come up from the washing, all of which bear twins, and not one among them is bereaved,” for example. But I do suggest that you love each other with delight.
Marriage is not just about passion, of course, and the second reading reminds us that married love, like all love, is first and foremost a reflection of the love God has for us. We heard today from the first letter of the Apostle John on the relationship between love and God, and a little further on in that letter is one of my all-time favourite Bible verses: “God is love, and those who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.” (1 John 4:16) The church believes that we can love each other because God first loves us. Love, Jesus told his disciples, was the great commandment. This love includes the romantic love between a couple, but it also includes friendship and charity and the sort of self-sacrificing love that saw Jesus willing to die: “No one has greater love than this,” Jesus said, “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) Susan and Daniel are invited to love each other with a love that includes all these elements: passion and romance and friendship and charity and sacrifice. That’s a huge expectation to place on them, but it’s one we believe that they will be able to fulfill because “everyone who loves is born of God and knows God”. Whenever people love each other, God is in that love. A wedding is, as your orders of service make clear, “a service of worship,” because as Susan and Daniel make their vows and declare their love to each other today, they are not doing it alone. They are doing it in the presence of God. We have asked for God’s blessing on them, that their love may continue to grow and be the true reflection of God’s love for us all. It is God’s blessing that will enable them to love each other fully. Later in the service, Susan and Daniel’s parents, and then all of us here, will be asked to promise to support them in their marriage. And we believe that, just as we will support them in their marriage, God will support them, too. And so they can promise to love each other for the rest of their lives with passion and romance and friendship and charity and sacrifice, knowing that God will enable them to do so.
Finally, the last reading reminds us that Daniel and Susan’s marriage takes place in the context of a world that needs love. One of the things that the church believes about marriage is that it enables a couple to “help to shape a society in which human dignity and happiness may flourish and abound”, a society like the one described in the Beatitudes. Susan and Daniel’s marriage isn’t just about them, and not even about them and God. It’s about them and the whole world. We can all rejoice today in the hope that because they are married, Daniel and Susan will be able to do even more to make the world a better place. I want to quote from a letter that the late Davis McCaughey, minister, President of the Uniting Church, Governor of Victoria, wrote to Jean Henderson, when they were first engaged. She had written that she felt “hopelessly inferior intellectually” to him, to which he had responded by saying that that was “a lot of rubbish”. But he also went to on to write: “there is something greater than knowledge, that is creative love, and if you really love me as I do you, then God may use us … to do something useful for some of his children somewhere at some time.” Susan and Daniel, through your love for each other, we look forward to God using you to do something useful for his children.
Finally, I want to offer you both a blessing. We will do this more formally after you have made your vows but for the moment I just want to say: May you love each other with the love of an otter who was able to give up eating fish for the sake of his beloved, and with the love of a fish who was able to see beyond the predatory fish-eating surface of an otter to the loving heart within. May you overcome all obstacles to live happily ever after. Amen.
 Quoted in Sarah Martin, Davis McCaughey: A life, pp. 94-5.