(This column appeared in The Concord Monitor on May 31, 2018)
We did not receive any royal wedding invitations. We’ve never been to Windsor Castle or hung a royal portrait on the wall. We’ve never even tuned in to a wedding on TV (or owned a TV, for that matter).
Until last Saturday.
Watching the wedding ceremony of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, we were captivated.
Not so much by the sparkling bride and groom – we’ve taken a rather personal pleasure in watching the tall, pale-skinned redhead woo his older, more accomplished bride of part-African descent.
Not so much by the ceremony – we were privileged to spend a season of our lives in Oxford, where we attended Anglican services in regal chapels and heard the boys choirs sing (and fell in love).
Not so much by the horses or the hats – if you haven’t seen the Royal Ascot, with all its assorted plumage, we recommend it; even the cheap seats will not disappoint.
Not so much by the sight of Meghan’s mother Doria Ragland, a social worker from Los Angeles, taking Prince Charles’s arm opposite the Duchess of Cornwall – we like to think of nappy black hair on a pasty white guy’s arm as our status quo.
Rather, we were captivated by the words of that most unlikely inhabitant of the St. George’s chapel pulpit: a prophetic preacher in the African American tradition who pulled no punches as he preached on the radical meaning of love.
And so, with our cards on the table, we’d like to share three reflections on love, borrowing from the Most Rev. Michael Curry’s surprising sermon.
First, love disrupts.
Speaking to a star-studded assembly in the heart of Windsor Castle, the Rev. Curry challenged his listeners to consider what love looks like in public, namely justice. “Imagine our homes and families when love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way. Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce when love is the way. Imagine this tired old world when love is the way, unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive.”
What do we get when this “tired old world” of ours is transformed by “unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive” love?
Hold on to your hats, folks. The words may sound simple enough but the reality is revolutionary. In a world where love is the way, people don’t just pay their taxes and smile at their neighbors and play nice on the freeway. Rather, they disrupt injustice.
Profits-before-people capitalism, where the wages and gadgets and stock portfolios of the wealthy West take precedence over fair wages and housing and health care for all the rest? Gone. The Earth and its atmosphere as a dumping ground for 110 million tons of carbon pollution emitted from tailpipes and smokestacks every day? Got to go. Rich countries closed off to immigrants and refugees who may not look or talk or pray the way we do? No more. Winner-take-all politics where your side is naturally “evil” and mine is inherently “good”? Finished.
Indeed, the disruptions inherent in the Rev. Curry’s articulation of a world transformed by love – a world where poverty is history, the Earth is a sanctuary, the foreigner is family, and war is no more – cannot be overstated. It’s about more than just inclusion, although the reverend’s impassioned plea that “there’s more than enough room for all God’s children” certainly hit home. It’s about radical, disruptive love. After all, as another prophetic preacher Cornel West is wont to say, “Justice is what love looks like in public.
And if gospel choirs and African locks and sermons about justice don’t represent the start of a royal disruption for the lily-white House of Windsor, we don’t know what does.
Second, love redeems.
Five times in his sermon, including at the very beginning and the end, the Rev. Curry invoked the term “redemptive love.”
“Love is not selfish and self-centered,” he declared. “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.”
To change the world we must start with changing lives, and changing lives starts with changing hearts.
Which brings us to a little secret about redemptive love that does not sit so well in modern secular society. You and I, we are in need of a little redemption. Something is not quite right with us. Indeed, something is profoundly wrong about the state of our hearts and, consequently, the state of our world. We need to be redeemed.
That’s not to say the human mind is not a marvelous thing – it is! – or the human heart’s capacity for compassion should get short shrift. Great souls like Mother Theresa, who inspired Prince Harry’s mother, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose words began the wedding sermon, remind us of our surpassing potential to love. Yet at the same time, thousands of years of recorded human history and the disquieting spirits within ourselves reveal that this “way of unselfish, sacrificial love” (read: justice) is not our natural state. Not for English royals or Hollywood celebs or the rest of us. Hence, the need to be redeemed.
When properly understood, this need for redemptive love empowers us to look beyond ourselves and our creations (kids, customs, careers) for salvation. Aware of our inadequacies, humbled by our sin, we say enough to repeating patterns of self-centeredness and find solutions outside ourselves. We ask for help. We give it gladly. We receive it gracefully. And giving and receiving sacrificial love, our hearts and lives – and the life of our world – begin to change.
In human terms, the fairy-tale wedding of a once-wayward prince – scarred by the sensationalized divorce of his parents and the devastating death of his mother – and an American actress who experienced her own and her parents’ divorce is an expression of redemption. In broader historical terms, this union between an African American woman, whose maternal descendants were slaves in Georgia, and a British prince, whose forefather gave that slave-holding colony its name, is redemptive too.
Which brings us to the final lesson on love from Rev. Curry’s sermon: There is a higher love.
If all this talk of disruption and redemption sounds daunting, we understand. To think that we ourselves could summon the strength to achieve such transformations is simply unrealistic.
The good news is, we don’t have to. Because love is more than our own making. It does not rise or fall with us. It comes from somewhere bigger, better, higher than us.
Quoting the First Epistle of John in the New Testament, the Rev. Curry summoned his audience to consider that higher source of the human love we seek: “Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God and those who love are born of God and know God … For God is love.”
The reverend went on to tell the royal bride and groom, and all the distinguished assembly, that they were not the center of their show. “Love is … not just for and about a young couple who we rejoice with.”
Their love – marvelous though it appears – is merely a fuzzy reflection of that higher love. To ground it and sustain it and use it for the good, they must draw from the source, from God. And that requires a relationship not merely with each other but with God. It requires the integration of an inescapably public life with prayer and contemplation. It requires they, and we, not merely acknowledge but abide in the higher love of God and personify God’s call for justice.
That’s our wish for Harry and Meghan as they begin their formal union with each other and with the world, as a couple of the world: that they and the millions more who follow their example might discover, in Dr. King’s words, “the redemptive power of love (and) make of this tired old world a new world.”