The Hardest of These is Love

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

Psalm 1, 2, 3 (Morning)
Psalm 4, 7 (Evening)
Jer. 36:11-26
1 Cor. 13:(1-3)4-13
Matt. 10:5-15

The Hardest of These is Love

For our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, I cross-stitched I Corinthians 13 in rosy thread, framed it in glass and gold, and stood it on our dresser. As I faced each day, I would look at the picture, then glance at myself in the dresser mirror. As years passed, I looked into the mirror less and at the picture not at all.

Beloved, quoted, memorized, Paul’s Hymn to Love suffers from overfamiliarity. Why read something we already know by heart? Yet, now, as John and I approach our fiftieth anniversary, I am called upon to reexamine these holy and exquisitely beautiful words, to search the form for the content, to hear the meaning beyond the sound.

The church at Corinth had lost its music, with arguments over spiritual gifts producing only cacophony and discord. Paul tells the Corinthians that all their speaking in tongues, without love, is just so much noise. As Paul was hammering together a doctrine for the early church, his prose could be gnarly and contradictory, but here it rises to poetry.

The repetitive linking verb structure in the English translation, “Love is …,” “Love is not …,” can lull us into comfortable complacency, but what looks like an abstract noun–Love–is in fact an imperative verb. To love as God loves, we must love with patience, with kindness, without jealousy, boastfulness, arrogance or irritability, and, sometimes most difficult, without insisting on having our own way.

Like Alice’s looking glass, reflecting while enticing her to enter, Paul’s dark mirror tells us first to see ourselves in it and then to take a deeper look, through it. Through that dirty, smoky pane we see Jesus, our brother, the incarnation of God’s perfect love.

How, then, can I, or the Corinthians, or anyone love the way God loves, who is defined by the very word Love? It’s another of those impossibles of our faith, but with–and only with– the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence, all things are possible.

Written by Kay DuVal

Kay, a retired teacher with a PhD in English, gardens on a Mt. Sequoyah hillside where she gains insights into Jesus’ parable about the Sower and the Seeds, especially those that fell upon rocky, barren soil.

Growing up Southern Baptist, Kay found her home in the Episcopal Church, where she has served on the Vestry and on the Seven Hills Board. In 2007, she organized the St. Elizabeth Flower Guild, and, earlier, the Recycling Ministry, which, with dedicated volunteers, has now saved reusable resources from the landfill for fourteen years.

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