It's been a whole week since the royal wedding, and interest in the event still seems to be fairly high. All the secrets are now revealed: the bride's dress was exquisite; her veil was perfect with the dress and a nod to her new role as part of the royal family and the British Empire; the children were adorable. The groom was nervous, but the love he had for her glowed in his face and especially his eyes. She, of course, had eyes for almost only him. The rest of the Royals were like regular Royals. They sat, and they watched. Until the moment.
Our Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, stood up to give a sermon at the royal wedding. It was a nod to the bride’s American heritage, and the Presiding Bishop Curry as the closest American equivalent of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The bride and groom picked the reading from the Song of Solomon. It’s not something heard very often, but it was a beautiful and thoughtful passage, and Curry took full advantage.
As he put his iPad on the lectern, you could see eyes begin shifting around. An electronic device? In St. George's Chapel? What kind of heresy is this? Well, this sermon was on it, and what a sermon it was. After all, this was a 21st century wedding, with nods to simplicity and a few modern touches without losing the royal flavor.
The sermon was all about love, but also about diversity, politics, human rights, the power of change, the power of devotion, and the power of love. Love encompassed everything, including the bride and groom but also a world celebrating their love by watching and listening and joining in, whether inside the chapel or thousands of miles away by video.
Most American Episcopalians have heard the Bishop speak in a variety of venues. His book, Crazy Christians, is a bestseller. He has been videotaped numerous times, his sermons have been broadcast, and he has been featured in numerous events. We Americans have heard him preach and we know how powerful those sermons can be. So, we settled back and got ready to be blown away.
Curry hit some rather sore points, things like civil rights, slavery, and oppression that are seldom featured in wedding sermons. In fact, they are seldom mentioned even in Sunday sermons. But Curry found that the song of Solomon gave him the freedom to speak of these things that are part of our common and separate histories. A lot of people were uncomfortable, many very much so. The cameras were moving around the congregation, catching the faces of the people listening. Some were horrified. This was not the kind of sermon they were expecting. Usually it was a nice brief, traditional sermon, with all the focus being on the love between the bride and groom. What they got was like an electric shock going through the congregation, or maybe it was a jolt from the Holy Spirit, showing up early for Pentecost and deciding to make this wedding day something completely different and unforgettable.
The Bishop wasn't talking just about the love between two humans. He wasn't talking strictly about monogamy, faithfulness, and constancy within a single-family unit. He was talking about universal love, love that encompassed all people no matter what. Curry said "Imagine this tired old world where love is the way. When love is the way - unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive." * It's a broad statement but right in line with the commandment of Jesus to love one another as he has loved us, and to love one another as we love ourselves. Maybe that's part of the problem; we don't know ourselves well enough to love ourselves. But Jesus does, and Curry made that abundantly clear again. To quote Bishop Curry, "When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all, and we are brothers and sisters, children of God. My brothers and sisters, that's a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, a new human family." Can't get much clearer than that. I hope a lot of people were really listening.
The thing about Curry’s sermon was that he put in it a passion that goes beyond human love. Curry is a Jesus lover, and he takes that love seriously, seriously enough to be so passionate about it he can't contain all the passion that he has for this love of Jesus. Regardless of where you are from or what kind of worship you were used to, that had to be abundantly clear. Curry is madly, passionately in love with Jesus, and he wants the world to feel that and to experience it for themselves. It is a bond with the Savior that is his strong as love and stronger than death. That mission is what I think a lot of people caught unexpectedly caught and didn't know how to respond but they knew something had changed something new had happened and something had come through like a rushing wind and lit the fires that hopefully will never be extinguished.
People go to church on Sundays, listen to the sermon, and probably have forgotten it by the time they walk out the front door. I don't think a lot of people walked out that way last Saturday in Windsor. I watched an interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Presiding Bishop after the wedding, and I was totally astounded and delighted to see the passion that seems to have affected the Archbishop. He seemed more alive and more engaged than I think I've ever seen him before. He had caught fire and showed it. I'm not saying he's going to go preach in Curry's style the next time he stands in the pulpit, but for that moment in time, he understood the passion and understood the way of expressing that passion so that others could catch on. It is not often that people remember the Sunday sermon or the Saturday sermon, but this is a sermon that people are still talking about a week later, and not just among themselves but on major television talk shows.
Curry is a very hot commodity right now. They all want to know what it felt like to preach in front of royalty. And I think the presiding Bishop, modestly, commented that he was preaching for the royal couple including everybody else in the sermon but that the sermon in a way road itself because of the song of Solomon, the text that he was given to work with.
It's time we look a little deeper into the wisdom literature of the Bible, parts of it that we almost never hear, and don't really understand. We look at it in a contemporary way, but we don't always acknowledge the parts that seem a little too intimate, a little too passionate, a little too lacking in mention of God and salvation and what have you. it refers it is love poetry between the lover and the beloved. Harry and Megan were the lover and the beloved, just as God, through and with Jesus, is the lover and all of us are the beloved.
There are so many words I could say about Bishop Curry's sermon. I watched the whole thing and I was totally amazed. I felt myself catching fire. Now that's something. It reminded me of a lot of Baptist sermons that I've heard, but blessed be, I heard not a single word about sin, repentance, and judgment. I heard a lot about love, and it touched me to the depths.
I think I'm going to remember the sermon for quite a while. I've printed out so that I can reread it and really meditate on it. If you haven't had a chance to read it, please do. If you haven't had a chance to see and hear it on video, oh, sisters and brothers, you are missing a treat. Prepare for your heart to be set afire.
*Quotes from the sermon of the Most Rev. Michael B. Curry on the occasion of the marriage of Prince Henry of Wales and Ms. Megan Markle, St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, on Saturday, May 19, 2018.
Corrected copy of the reflection originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café, Saturday, May 25, 2018.