I know that I wasn’t the only one who watched the Royal Wedding this past weekend. There is so much that I could comment on. I always find it fascinating to observe the liturgical similarities between the Anglican church and the Catholic Church. I find it particularly interesting to see celebrities and famous athletes at the royal weddings, sitting through such a traditional liturgical service. Like all weddings, it is an opening for grace to work on hearts, and that always fills me with such hope.
For the sake of this article, I want to put aside theological differences between the Church of England and the Catholic Church regarding marriage (i.e. divorce, same-sex “marriage”, etc.). That’s a different discussion for a different article. I want to take a moment to look at something very powerful and very unexpected that happened at the wedding of Harry and Meghan, now Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
Anyone who followed the wedding on social media probably noticed much chatter about Bishop Michael Curry, the head of the Episcopal Church of America, who offered the sermon at the wedding. As both an American and a person of color, he was a pleasant surprise. The sermon he delivered was unlike any sermon delivered at any previous British royal wedding. It was fiery and impassioned, and it left a strong impression on the media. Twitter, in particular, was abuzz with tweets about how people had expected to watch a mere wedding and had instead been moved by the message of Bishop Curry.
The message was, simply, love.
I am always a bit wary when I hear the beginning of a sermon or homily on love. Will it laud love on a superficial level? Or will it dig deeper, calling to mind the love of Christ on the cross?
When Bishop Curry began his sermon, it seemed it would be of the former variety. He quoted the passage that had just been read from the Song of Songs, a traditional scripture selection for a wedding. As he began, people chuckled politely at appropriate moments. But, as Curry became more impassioned in his deliverance and began to explore the idea of love in suffering, various people (including some of the royals) were seen smirking uncomfortably, and chuckling to themselves.
It was a bit of a clash of cultures — British culture is, after all, not known for being emotional and exuberant so much as refined and subdued. Curry’s deliverance was anything but calm and subdued! However, their discomfort also coincided with a shift in Curry’s message. He talked about the American slaves, and of their hope in God’s love in the midst of the suffering of slavery. He talked about the redemptive love of Christ on the cross. He clearly stated that love is not just about the love of a “young couple” like Harry and Meghan. Love, he said, was about sacrifice. Sacrificial love and belief in the “redemptive love” of Christ, he insisted, was what would change the world.
It was interesting to see the shift in the facial expressions of the members of the assembly. (To their credit, Harry and Meghan listened with attentive joy.) As the camera spanned the crowd, various people began to smile and look around nervously. It was reminiscent of Don’s facial expression as he watches the Happy Hands Club in Napoleon Dynamite. It was the discomfort of a group of high school students, listening to a teacher give a talk about something that they know to be true, or watching fellow students perform a dance that is well choreographed but of a potentially unpopular style.
Sacrificial love — true love in suffering — is not in vogue these days. And while some of the discomfort of royal wedding attendees can be chalked up to listening to a different preaching style, perhaps some of it was also due to the content of the sermon and the passion with which it was delivered. As Bishop Curry insisted, again and again, on the importance of conforming our life and love to that of Christ’s in the Gospels, I couldn’t help but call to mind another unpopular preacher from two thousand years ago, the “voice in the wilderness” of St. John the Baptist. In John’s time, he was thought to be crazy. He dressed and spoke in fashion that wasn’t the cultural norm, but he also delivered a message that wasn’t popular. In fact, it was so unpopular that it led to his eventual beheading.
While, thankfully, beheading is no longer the practice across the pond, Bishop Curry’s message was one that many are uncomfortable with. Are married couples today prepared for real, sacrificial love? Are married couples today prepared to offer the world an example of the sacrificial love of Christ? The call to love and suffer for one’s spouse is inevitable. It is a matter of “when” and “how,” not “if.”