Preaching the Royal Wedding

It started out like any other Anglican wedding, with music from Handel and words from 1 John. The congregation sang a hymn, the prince drew the veil back from his bride’s face and whispered, “Hi”, with a smile. They spoke their declarations of intent, just like any couple. The prince’s aunt read from the Song of Songs, and the choir sang an anthem by Tallis. Then, the Most Reverend Michael Curry, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal church in the USA, entered the pulpit to preach. The first African American man to preach at such an occasion, he preached about love.

This was not a typical preacher for a royal wedding. Nor was this a typical wedding sermon, although God knows, it should be. The preacher celebrated the love of this young couple, whose love is like any other couple’s, even if they are royalty. But he quickly expanded the view of what love is. He said it himself – “do not underestimate it, and don’t even over-sentimentalize it” – there is power in love. Power in love to heal. Power to sustain slaves in the midst of oppression. Power to redeem the world.

Then Bishop Curry invited us all to imagine a world that is shaped and transformed by love—
-in our homes and families
-in our neighborhoods and communities
-in governments and nations
-in business and commerce
“to imagine this tired old world when love is the way.”

Bishop Curry preached a changed world, a new world, a world re-made by the power of the divine love that is the root and source of all love. At the royal wedding, where tradition and power and decorum reign supreme, he preached eschatology to anyone with ears to hear.

It made me want to stand up and cheer. Well, maybe I did, just a little.

Because Michael Curry did not just preach eschatology, he embodied it. His very presence signaled the breaking down of barriers that divide. His words pointed to the cosmic leveling of which Mary sings in her Magnificat.

It did not take long for the detractors to speak. They say he went too long, although he preached for just thirteen minutes—a short sermon by many standards. They say his sermon should have been more “appropriate”—meaning, I can only surmise, that he should have preached whiter—a sign that, in fact, his sermon was right on the mark. They say he was seizing the opportunity to draw attention to himself—when, in fact, he did just the opposite, enlarging the focus from one human love story to the greatest love story of all, that of God for the whole blessed world.

From where I stand, Bishop Michael Curry managed to both bless and challenge his listeners—to celebrate the love of two people while exhorting them (and all of us) “to treat each other like we are actually family.” Family! The descendants of oppressors and the descendants of the oppressed. Family! The descendants of rebellious colonists and the descendants of an empire. Family! Yes, family, the family of God. Then one by one, members of the family appeared—a British black gospel choir, the Jamaican-born chaplain to the queen, the Egyptian-born Coptic archbishop, the young black cellist, and yes, the darling Princess Charlotte and the Queen Mum.

This is the family of the new England, the family of the God of Pentecost, the family of the new world that God is creating even now, day by day, where there is plenty good room for all.

 

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24 comments

  1. I don’t think it was too long, but I was surprised that he used that bad crutch of preachers – dropping a light-hearted aside that acknowledges that some might feel he was going on too long, yet then continuing right on. Just never do that, homilists, please. It’s worse than going on too long. It says “I know at least some of you may think I am going on too long – tough, I don’t care.” If you cannot give a pithy homily, don’t joke about it, because that only serves to comfort your own unease, and does zip for the congregation (unless you are actually going to change your habits).

    1. Karl,

      While we are on the topic…let’s talk about homilies for a moment.

      Given the age in which we live….and your reference to “pithy”…..how long do you think
      a homilist should speak for? Anyone?

      Personally, I preach 7-9 mins, always scripturally (scriptures…. assigned for the day/feast, not random) based.

      1. Roger

        I didn’t think that “address” was too long (see my very first sentence).

        My pointed objection was more limited, and then re-directed at truly long-winded preachers who use that kind of rhetorical device (something I’ve witnessed too many times to count). Unlike blog combox readers, preachers have a captive audience. (I made the connection because someone in my social circle did complain unbidden about Bp Curry’s use of the device and his continuing on, and I remembered how often I’ve heard complaints of this sort by others over past years in other contexts.)

  2. Your critique goes on far longer than Bishop Curry’s aside, Karl.

    Thanks Kimberly for your beautiful post and the link! I agree, it was a moving homily on many levels.

  3. It was, however, certainly not “like any other Anglican wedding”. The Handel at the entrance was far from typical (and in an arrangement that transposed the alto of the original up an octave for a soprano), as was the Gospel Choir and the cello-solo Ave Maria. (I wonder if US viewers realized that the soloist was supposed to have been playing in Los Angeles that day, but had given that up when he received the invitation.)

    It was gratifying to see various ritual elements from the rites in Common Worship that have been influenced by Roman Catholic postconciliar liturgical reforms, such as the wording for the exchange of rings, and the inclusion of Prayers of the Faithful with a response for the assembly.

    Disappointing to see that, as in the vast majority of Anglican liturgies, the assumption is that the assembly is only capable of singing hymns (two in this case). The remainder of the music was “mood music” or entertainment, however you want to look at it. Increasingly I find this insulting to the people. In working with Anglicans, unpacking the possibilities of responsorial psalms, acclamations, litanies and other forms as normative assembly song is always as much an eye-opener as was Bishop Michael Curry’s excellent homily for those unfamiliar with this style of preaching.

    All in all, this wedding, watched by over 2 billion (European = million million) viewers worldwide, will have done much to promote the cause of well-planned and executed liturgy that is relevant and not boring, formal and yet real, life-giving and not just another incomprehensible Christian ritual. And once again it demonstrated that the word “asunder”, which is only ever used in spoken-English in this particular context, is still part of our DNA!

    1. I do recognize that not all of the liturgical elements were typical of Anglican weddings; I meant that it began in a familiar way, with words from 1 John. Handel may not have been a surprise, but you are right that the selection from Handel’s repertoire was – and I was taken by the fact that it was not a fanfare but a more subtle, even ethereal-sounding piece. I was delighted at the use of Common Worship, the omission of the word “obey”, and the variety of musical styles incorporated.

      As for hymn-singing, I couldn’t help but notice that, while many sang heartily, there were a fair number of people who were clearly unused to the practice. So yes – there are so many ways to include the congregation in liturgy through singing. I wonder, though, whether other forms would have been puzzling to some of the guests.

      1. As opposed to being unused to the practice, could it be that some in the congregation were not Christian, or even not believers of anything and might not feel comfortable participating? That should certainly cross every liturgist’s mind before going on about people not participating at whatever service.

      2. What surprised and pleased me was to see the bridal couple joining in singing a hymn–and without having the text in front of them.

      1. Ah! The statistic clearly came from someone using the US million (= the French milliard) and not the European one. Apologies for not checking that!

        Even so, 2 out of 7.5 is a pretty respectable proportion of Earth’s population for televiewing a single event — more than a quarter.

  4. Bishop Curry did not shy from making the connection of love to the scriptures and love as the reason why people were there (besides wearing way cool fascinators) and love as to why Martin Luther King Jr. did what he did.

    Finish that off with some self deprecating humor and a French Jesuit Chardin quote and people around the globe might listen. At least the PrayTell blog and Vogue magazine to local TV news admit the words were significant enough to remember.

  5. Apparently “The Address” (aka sermon / homily) was scheduled for only 6 mins, although as others have already commented was actually 13 mins on the actual day – so an over run of 213%!

  6. Nowadays weddings and funerals are a time when the gospel can be presented to people who maybe have never heard it. I play at a lot of funerals since retiring. It is noticeable that the majority of those attending are not churched – to the extent of not knowing the Lords Prayer. The same with weddings.
    I was very pleased that the bishop didn’t water down his message, but presented the Christian gospel quite explicitly.
    NB – I thought the Handel was not good. The poor soloist was left very exposed and nerves got to her pitching.

    1. At least if they had used the Lord’s Prayer in the traditional form, most people, even if they didn’t know it would have recognized it, and the congregation wouldn’t have had its face in the program during it’s praying.

      1. Actually the majority of Anglican parishes now use the modern-language version. It’s only those who stick to the Prayer Book who don’t. The modern-language version was also offered as an an option in the 1998 ICEL Sacramentary. One major underlying theme of this wedding was change, so it was entirely appropriate to use the modern version.

    1. Yes, that was George VI’s wife, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the mother of the present Queen (hence the nickname), who died in 2002 at the remarkable age of 101.

  7. Thank you for this thoughtful and theological reflection! I, too, was delighted by the breaking down of walls and joyous unity embodied in Bishop Curry’s sermon, and the ceremony itself.

  8. Thanks for the reflection on preaching – I do think the profound changes in the liturgy (of which the preaching was only a part) were extraordinary in their ‘newness’ and representative shift – good on the newlyweds!

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