At a wedding, when 1 Corinthians 13 is read, usually it’s the whole chapter. This second half of that larger reading seems appropriate for a reflection on the end of life and to what lies beyond human death. What does await when gifts and knowledge and perception passes away? It is a great mystery.
Love never fails.
If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing;
if tongues, they will cease;
if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.
For we know partially and we prophesy partially,
but when the perfect comes,
the partial will pass away.
When I was a child, I used to talk as a child,
think as a child, reason as a child;
when I became an adult,
I put aside childish things.
At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror,
but then face to face.
At present I know partially;
then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.
So faith, hope, love remain, these three;
but the greatest of these is love.
Because this reading is so often selected for weddings (must be that word love) most people do not realize that Saint Paul was not speaking of marriage at all. In 1 Corinthians 12 he writes of spiritual gifts, and of the Body. Love is not just something for spouses. Love is for the whole community. That includes, presumably, those who are still part of us, but have died and moved to whatever is beyond.
The text after the break, verses 12 and 13 have always struck me as the crux of this whole passage, including 1 Corinthians 12. If this passage is really about the application of love in a community, it does seem appropriate for a funeral. We will never quite know a perfection in our earthly relationships. There will always be some barrier, or at best, a spot of haze here and there.
Saint Paul seems to be speaking of a perfect future when difficulties in relationships will fall away and only love will be left. And with this clarity will also come understanding. After death, we will have that clear sight. For those of us close to a departed person, that is something to which we can cling in the days just after a death.