Wednesday, October 10, 2012

for a new marriage...

There’s this great word used all over the Hebrew Bible.  Like most root words in Hebrew, it’s just three letters long. Transliterated, it’s chesed .  Unfortunately, its true meaning has been lost in translation.  In the Old Testament, it’s often translated as “loving kindness” and it’s used in the context of God’s loving kindness towards the people of Israel.  But this word, chesed, pronounced with one of those harsh sounding h’s, is much tougher than “loving kindness.”  It’s a bolder word.  It’s a scarier word.  To get to the heart of the meaning of this word, we have to see how it’s been used in the Hebrew Bible.  It’s usually used for God’s chesed towards God’s people, and it’s usually used after the Israelites have screwed up.  I mean really screwed up.  It’s used after they build the golden calf.  It’s used in Isaiah after the Israelites have failed to worship God.  It’s used 23 times in the Psalms.  It’s used over a hundred times in the whole Old Testament, and referred to again and again, in the New.  
Chesed is more accurately translated as something like “absolute covenant loyalty,” or “steadfast love,” or in New Testament terms, “Grace.” I like to think of it as “stubborn love.” The kind of love that is still there even after we build towers in the sky, after we worship idols on mountaintops, and after we fail to trust God in the wilderness and when we whine about the manna and the quail.  It’s the kind of love that is still there after we’ve hurt feelings, taken advantage of each other, and been complicit in all the powers of oppression and violence.  It’s not sentimental kindness, though.  Chesed is not “cheap grace.” It’s not those first emotions that come with “falling in love.” It’s not those quickly fading feelings. And it’s not a ticket to do whatever you want without the consequences.  It’s devastating Grace.  It’s the kind of Grace that ends you up on a cross. Like I said, it’s terrifying and it’s stubborn love. But it’s the love that God has for us.  Committed.  Unfailing.  Returning. The kind of perfect love that casts out fear.  The perfect love that will never truly separate us from God. 
It’s covenant.
So. This is what we wish for you, not on your wedding day, but for your entire marriage.  Chesed. Or the hope of chesed. Or the stubborn insistence on chesed. We wish for you the commitment and the loyalty and the determined persistence that no matter what, God’s stubborn love is going to follow you wherever you go.  May God’s Chesed be a model for the chesed you have for each other, so that no matter what comes your way, sickness, health, riches, poverty, fears, joys, uphill battles and downhill rides, you’ll have something to hold tight to.  Not the joyful emotions of this day, although those are great too. But the chesed that withstands it all. 

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