|David and Jonathan- Detail from a window at St. Mark's Church, Portobello, Scotland, 1882|
From our readings today, this could be a story about mourning. In both the readings from 2 Samuel and our Gospel from Mark, mourning plays a prominent role. And after the last many days, readings about mourning could not be more appropriate. Last week, we had the tragic murders of nine people in Charleston, South Carolina, as Mike preached about last Sunday, when he spoke so eloquently of our fears of facing the twin Goliaths of racism and gun violence.
In our reading from 2 Samuel today, Goliath is long-dead. But in the years that followed that epic battle, one thing became clear: the defeat of Goliath was not the sole problem that faced Israel. Just as in our own society today, the killing of one fearful monster, or even two, does not solve all of our problems.
The defeat of Goliath by David did not bring resolution or peace. The Philistines continued to attack Saul’s people years after Goliath lay in his grave. Ultimately, the Philistines succeed in bringing about the deaths of many of the best within Israel. And now, the people have lost their king, flawed though he may have been, who was God’s anointed leader over them. Even more tragically, Saul’s son Jonathan, noble, fierce, and pure of heart, has fallen alongside his father.
David’s song calls upon Israel to mourn,
to understand who they are by what they have lost.
In our own time, we know how to be outraged and be bitter, but it almost seems we do not know how to mourn, much less how to draw strength from our losses. We expect people to go through “stages of grief” in a linear, productive fashion. We expect people to know when they are supposed to mourn and get on with it, to face the reality of loss, like the mourners in our gospel today.
The lamentation of David seeks to teach us how to mourn. In the last week, though, we’ve seen another group teach us how to mourn: the families of those nine saints in Charleston, who have modeled forgiveness without surrender, who have sung songs of joy and grace, even from their sorrow. They have refused to fill their hearts with hate, because they know that there is still too much to do to address the racism and worship of guns, those two Goliaths, that still stand astride so much of our country.
They remind us, as Christians especially, that we live our lives in the understanding that love wins. Love always wins.
There is forgiveness and love in David’s lament, too. At the end of Saul’s life, he had turned on David repeatedly, even seeking his death out of jealousy. Yet David refers to Saul and his son as “mighty.” Three times in David’s lament, he intones the now-famous words, “How the mighty have fallen!” David could have sought retribution, but instead he responds with a song of love and devotion. David’s mourning is rooted in David’s deep love.
For David loved not only Saul, but Jonathan. David’s love and respect for Saul may have been complicated, but his devotion to Jonathan was NOT. In the many verses between last week’s reading and this week’s reading, we see one of the most committed relationships ever depicted in our scriptures, a commitment and loyalty that stand alongside that of Naomi and Ruth, who were David’s direct ancestors.
David and Jonathan shared a deep commitment of love and abiding fidelity to each other that was almost too deep for words. David’s lament makes clear how very dear and precious Jonathan’s love was to him in profoundly powerful and personal imagery:
I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
greatly beloved were you to me;
your love to me was wonderful,
passing the love of women.
Listen to the description of Jonathan and David’s commitment to each other in 1 Samuel 18:3-4:
Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that he was wearing, and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt.
It is no surprise that same kind of imagery is used to describe the vocation of marriage, which should also be based on deep faithfulness, devotion, friendship, loyalty and honor. Jonathan honored David and placed his own symbols of identity and rank on David. Their souls were knit together. They wanted only the best for each other, and sought to protect and uphold each other.
There’s a saying that “love is friendship caught fire.” Love—real love—knows no boundaries, if it is founded upon equality, honor, mutuality, and seeking the very best for your beloved, be they friend, family or spouse.
We understand who we are by loving beyond ourselves, by loving each other and thereby loving God. Love is the ultimate act of bravery and faith, because it requires so much of us.
David mourns, because David loves. The love that is celebrated and memorialized by David speaks to us across centuries and boundaries with its beauty, its steadfastness, its depth. It is a kind of love that we all hope to experience in some form in our lives. Even across the separation of death, the love that David bears Jonathan endures, and in the depths of his sorrow there also echoes gratitude for all that Jonathan was to him. By his own admission, David’s love for Jonathan is one of the most important loves of his life. The love endures even after Jonathan is gone.
We could say that our first and last readings this week are about mourning. However, they are also, ultimately, about miracles. They are ultimately about love.
Our readings this week show us many facets of love. There is the devotion and honor David displays for Saul even in the face of repeated betrayals. There is a love between friends and brothers who love each other as much as they love their own souls, who are knit together indissolubly—even beyond the grave. There is the love between Jairus and his daughter. There is the love and compassion Jesus displays for the unnamed woman who seeks his healing touch. True love can take root in family, friendship, partnership, or matrimony.
And this week, we have seen legal recognition of the great benefit of those who seek to love in our society. We continue to move toward the recognition of real, devoted, self-sacrificing love for what it is—a blessing from God, no matter what form it takes.
And so, we are brought from mourning into hoping this week, as PrideFest bursts around us in St. Louis, as we celebrate the recognition of marriage as a contract that grants legal rights and protections, yes. But this decision proclaims something more: marriage is a covenant of devotion, faith, and fidelity whose blessings and protections should be extended to any two adults who are willing to commit themselves faithfully and honorably to each other, forsaking all others.
The eagerness of two people to forsake all others and form a new family is an undertaking that both society and faith community have traditionally been called to witness and celebrate. Whether we have ourselves been married or not, the willingness to unite ourselves to another with pledges and hope in good times and in bad is something that stands as a lesson to us all of the very real presence of God’s love for us.
Now it’s true that not everyone marries, and that we are fallible human beings who often leap before we look. This decision still does not grant full legal protection to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, nor does it protect them from hate and discrimination. But this is another reminder to us to that truth we proclaim each Sunday: that love wins, and when love wins, there are no losers.
It is an interesting twist of fate that this court decision comes while the General Convention of the Episcopal Church is meeting in Salt Lake City, and one of the topics they were already planning to consider was the status of full inclusion of gays into the sacraments and sanctifications offered by the Church. As many of us at Holy Communion know, the prayer book allows the blessing of a civil marriage for same-sex partners, Many of us rejoiced in witnessing this special rite at our diocesan cathedral just a short month ago. But it is not allowed to be used everywhere, and it uses a separate rite. The court decision this week renews the question of whether this church recognizes fully the unions of couples, whether gay or straight, as true marriages of heart, mind, and soul.
The laws of the land have suddenly, in one swift stroke, raced past us, and we have both the opportunity and the pressure thrust upon us to react prayerfully and faithfully in a church that NEVER moves quickly—a church in which a prayer book from 1979 is still referred to as “new.”
“But we’ve always done it this way” has become such a reflexive response that it should almost be engraved over the doors into our buildings—even though that claim is not true.
Marriage has not ever always been done in one way or another. Hopefully, we will move from discussion of “gay marriage” to understanding that there is simply marriage, without qualifiers, and that we are called as the church to make no distinction when it comes to real love, rooted in sacrifice, a perilous undertaking in the best of times, and yet a joyous undertaking rooted in the witness of the community of faith as the ultimate act of faith between one human being and another.
This is a prophetic moment in the church—or, rather, this is one of several prophetic moments to which we have been called to open ourselves as a church in just a few short days. The events in Charleston called us to confront issues of prejudice and equality, of life and death—to stand before those giants unflinchingly, and ask ourselves what we are going to do about it. The events of this week call us to do nothing less in the case of not just tolerating but celebrating and embracing our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer brothers and sisters.
It is time for us to understand that sharing in the love of God is sharing in God’s very being. It is time to understand that who someone loves is not a lifestyle or a choice, but it is part of the very fabric of that person’s identity. The full expression of love is how we participate in the life of God.
This is not about merely the body and the way we express ourselves in the act of sex. It is about the soul, the soul that seeks to cling to and be united with another in the most profound way possible. It is about our call as a church to never respond with half measures in the one great task we have been given by God—the task of loving each other, and recognizing and erupting with joy and supporting those who choose to be united in love and fidelity.
This week’s Supreme Court majority opinion closed with this beautiful statement:
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union two people become something greater than once they were…. Marriage embodies the love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of the civilizations oldest institutions.”
In this statement we also see many of the aspects of the deep love expressed between David and Jonathan, between Ruth and Naomi, between the Bride and the Groom in the Song of Songs, between Christ and his Church. Because love is love, in whatever form it takes. As the people of God, we are called to witness and lift up the love that springs up in our midst.
Our work here is not done. There is still much to do to ensure full celebration and welcome of ALL people into the fabric of our society. As the events of these last many days and months and years keep proving to us, we are often defined by most clearly by how we love.
The love we are called to embody as Christians is a hard road, much like marriage. It calls us to be willing to at times sacrifice our own privilege in the name of something greater than ourselves, something that draws us out of ourselves and reminds us that our hearts cannot beat true if we don’t take the risk to open ourselves to the joy and the danger and the uncertainty of love.
Love is our calling from God because it is our life within God. The path of healing and living lies through being willing to love again and again—love, in the fullest sense of the word, that bears all things and hopes all things. Love that in itself is a miracle.