Today I had the privilege of watching scores of couples of all kinds renew their vows to each other, and renewing my own vows with my sweetheart. One of best parts of being a pastor is being admitted into people’s lives, even if for a moment. As the couples streamed down the aisle, I was flooded with stories about their love and the lives of other couples I have known. Almost none of those stories was easy, and yet the smiles on their faces were smiles of hope.
Couples who started out poor tell stories of eating the same meal for weeks or working two jobs or being separated until they could save up to be together. Now some of them are financially comfortable, have large families and can look back on those days fondly as just a “stage”. Couples who are in the midst of that “stage” wonder anxiously if someday they will be able to look back on the present, or whether this is the new normal. The story I seldom hear directly, but often indirectly, is of families who struggle for years and never really get out of the struggling “stage”. Without the happy ever after, it’s just poverty.
Many couples in today’s procession have lived together for years, but were not allowed to be legally married. Some of these gay couples have since chosen to have a wedding, some not. Words barely express my joy at being able to welcome all couples to the altar for marriage! Who would have imagined such a thing even five years ago? Watching them hold hands down the aisle, I was humbled by the faithfulness of people who chose love in the face of a hateful society, and whose steadfast love made marriage equality possible.
We also remembered lost loves today. Widows and widowers lit candles for those with whom they could not walk down the aisle. This is the risk we take in falling in love; that someday, our hearts will be broken by loss . Certainly the older couples, and those who had faced serious illness, must have had that on their minds today. I know I did. Loving someone is to have a series of moments with them, but no one knows how many. Some of these relationships lasted 70 or more years, and some of them barely a decade.
We know that love is not only the province of couples. Love is what builds families, creates friendships, makes alliances that survive through the years, bonds people together as communities. It’s all love.
Who can imagine the variety of ways one can be in love or be damaged by love?Statistically some of these couples must have experienced infidelity, abuse, mistrust and boredom in their relationships as well as joy. And yet – and yet – we all came to the altar, with our single friends supporting us. We held hands, and we vowed to keep loving each other, and we kissed. Every couple there had a different experience of love. Each will live out their vows differently. And yet, for a moment, we testified together to the power of love in our lives and in the world. And in doing so, we said to an angry, violent and chaotic world: Love wins!