Love, forever

Weddings are full of promise. As a minister, I cherish the privilege of helping prepare couples for marriage and then officiating the ceremony. I always have high hopes for them. But all new couples have their share of challenges to navigate.

Figuring out how to establish a household together, for example, is challenging enough. But doing so while dragging a truckload of emotional baggage behind them is more challenging still. What did they learn of trust from the way their parents raised them? What did they see of love and partnership in their parents’ marriage? What disappointments and betrayals still sting from previous romantic relationships? The hurdles can be high, the learning curve steep.

The unbroken circle of their wedding bands symbolizes a love and commitment that’s supposed to be forever, “till death do us part.” But that notion of a covenant promise is easily co-opted by cultural mythology. Much of pop culture wants us to believe that somewhere out there is that special someone — our “soulmate” — who completes us, who makes us whole, and with whom we can be together forever almost effortlessly. But what happens when we discover that it’s harder than we thought? That building and preserving a good relationship actually requires work and sacrifice?

That’s when we begin to learn what love really means.

And toward that end, hopefully, we can lean back into the biblical truth that there is but one love that is truly forever.

. . .

Psalms 135 and 136 are like two sides of the same poetic coin, a tribute to the eternal and steadfast love of God — in Hebrew, God’s hesed. You can hardly miss the theme, especially in Psalm 136. It reads like a call and response, and I like to treat it as such. Imagine first that the worship leader declares a piece of Israel’s history, an event of divine mercy or rescue from the people’s shared memory. Then, with each new declaration the congregation responds in unison, “for his steadfast love endures forever.”

The opening verses of the psalm, for example, call the congregation to a grateful recognition of the absolute sovereignty of God over all other gods. Imagine the lines going back and forth between a worship leader and a congregation:

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
O give thanks to the God of gods,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
O give thanks to the Lord of lords,
    for his steadfast love endures forever…
(vss. 1-3, NRSV)

The psalm continues in a similar vein, seeing the steadfast love of God in creation, and each time, the congregation repeats their affirmation:

who alone does great wonders…
who by understanding made the heavens…
who spread out the earth on the waters…
who made the great lights…
the sun to rule over the day…
the moon and stars to rule over the night…
(vss. 4-9)

The recitation turns to specific events from God’s relationship to his people. He has shown his covenant love toward them in the events of the exodus from Egypt, and in the military victories that eventually brought them to the land that had been promised to Abraham and his descendants:

who struck Egypt through their firstborn…
and brought Israel out from among them…
with a strong hand and an outstretched arm…
who divided the Red Sea in two…
and made Israel pass through the midst of it…
but overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea…
who led his people through the wilderness…
who struck down great kings…
and killed famous kings…
Sihon, king of the Amorites…
and Og, king of Bashan…
and gave their land as a heritage…
a heritage to his servant Israel…
(vss. 10-22)

Thus, this loving God is both savior and provider:

It is he who remembered us in our low estate…
and rescued us from our foes…
who gives food to all flesh…
(vss. 23-25)

The psalm ends by circling back to the call to give thanks, as the congregation declares the love of God for the twenty-sixth and final time:

 O give thanks to the God of heaven,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
(vs, 26)

The God who does great wonders is the God who remembers, the God who rescues, the God who gives. The people can search their collective memory back to their ancestors from long ago, and tell and retell the stories of God’s hesed. And they can project the story forward: God is still a God of covenant love today, and will be tomorrow, the next day, and every day thereafter.

We often have to work at being faithful to our promises of love. Hopefully, we grow and mature in that regard. But “steadfast love” describes God as he has always been, is now, and always will be.

Thanks be to God.

Want to leave a comment? Click here.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.