So you have just finished premarital counseling with another couple, and you are planning the service with them. They don’t know much about most of the scripture options, but they know they want “that love passage.”
You groan inwardly.
“1 Cor 13 is a beautiful passage,” you say. “Many people choose 1 Cor 13. It’s kind of the anthem everyone already has in their heads when they come to a wedding. Wouldn’t you like to take a look at your other options?”
They would not like to take a look at their other options. They know they want “that love passage.”
You go over their other options anyway, because maybe you can do a little teaching about scripture in the process. You think you have almost persuaded them to make a bold choice – to choose an epistle reading that is not “that love passage.”
You say, “Take these scriptures home, and read and reflect them together over the course of the week, and then send me your choices.”
The email comes in. 1 Cor 13 it is. “Oh, and we would like you to preach on this one!” they add.
“Sounds great!” you reply with an inner sigh too deep for words.
Fear not, wedding preacher! St. Augustine to the rescue!
At the recent AAR-SBL meeting, Professor Gregory Lee was responding to a colleague’s reading of Augustine, and he referenced a beautiful passage near the end of City of God, which is a reflection on 1 Cor 13:12: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” In Chapter XII of City of God, Augustine reflects on the mystery wrapped up in 1 Cor 13:12. How will we see God, who is certainly not some sort of anthropomorphic Superman in the sky, face to face? What does it mean to see God who is Love?
Augustine asserts that, at the parousia, we will probably not be given radically new “powers of the mind”, akin to heavenly night-vision goggles so that we can see the invisible God. Rather, “God will be made known to and be perceived by us, in many ways. He will be seen in the spirit (whereby each of us will see Him within ourselves and in one another); He will be seen in Himself; He will be seen in the new heaven and the new earth and in every creature then existing; and, by means of our bodies, He will be seen in every material object toward which the eyes of our spiritual bodies happen to direct their gaze. Even our very thoughts will then be made known to one another” (The City of God, Book XXII, Chapter 29).
In Augustine’s mystical final vision, all things stand in dramatic openness and transparency to all else in creation, such that even our thoughts are known to each other. At the same time, all things reflect who God is, such that the invisible God may be seen. The particularity of all things is somehow not lost, but radically welcomed by every other thing in creation, and all things reveal God. This is what it is like to see the God of love.
As Professor Lee offered us this breathtaking image, he mentioned rather offhandedly that this passage from Augustine had been read at his wedding. Interesting, I thought.
What would marriage look like if it were understood as a relationship that prepares us to step into the fullness of Augustine’s vision? How might this relationship be one that hones our vision so that we might see the invisible God?
Maybe there is more than a wedding sermon there.