May I begin by thanking Didier for kindly allowing me to speak today, and to go first! And may I also remind us all of absent friends, at least those absent physically though not I am sure in spirit; those who would have dearly loved to be here but are separated from us, either because they are beyond the seas – or unable to travel even within this country, or because they are beyond this life and are part of that great crowd of witnesses to this marriage which stretches back through time but which includes some who have known and loved us on our journey to this special day.
I hope you will agree with me that there is no impediment which might prevent the lawful marriage of these true minds. I think you’d have to be brave to stand up and make an objection. Matthew and Maria are two very determined young people and I don’t think they’d take prisoners!
This line in the sonnet is a reference to some words from what is now called the Book of Common Prayer, in Shakespeare’s time the 1558 Prayer Book: ‘I know not of any lawful impediment why I may not be joined in matrimony.’ Apparently Maria has said that if I take any photos during the wedding she will dragon kick me. Now some of you may doubt that Maria would be able to execute a dragon kick in her wedding dress, but I’m taking no chances so I’ve locked my camera safely in the boot of the car. If that’s how she feels about a few photographs, I can only imagine what she’s do to anyone who tried to come up with an impediment to this marriage taking place!
Perhaps Maria and Matthew’s determination stems from being a younger child, with at least one older sibling. Maria screwed up all her courage to climb across roof tops rather than be left behind by her brother. Matthew kept his feet firmly on the ground, but he was still very anxious to play catch up with his brother and sister.
When he was about ten months old he was desperate to walk and used to toddle around pushing a little trolley full of bricks. One sunny afternoon we took the trolley outside but there was too much inertia for him to be able to push it across the grass. Rather foolishly I took out all of the bricks to make the trolley lighter and suddenly it took off, with Matthew desperately trying to keep up until it ran completely away from him and he fell flat on his face. Some children would have given up at that point, but we put a few bricks back into the trolley and straight away he picked himself up and tried again.
When Matthew was at school we would go sometimes and watch him play rugby. The opposing team would get down from their coach and usually they were roughly the same size and weight as Matthew’s team, except that there would always be one boy who was built like a colossus. And then you would know, with a sinking feeling, that very soon the colossus would be charging down the pitch, clutching the ball, with Matthew hanging on grimly to his waist – his feet trailing behind him in the mud as he was dragged along in the titan’s wake – until finally the colossus would run out of stamina and blunder to the ground. And then both teams would pile enthusiastically on top of them, with Matthew and the colossus hidden somewhere at the bottom of the ruck.
One day we heard that the deputy head had shouted at Matthew, ‘You’re an animal, Bishop!” What has he done now?’ we thought, but it turned out to be a backhanded tribute to his determination to hang on to his opponents.
But the prize for determination surely belongs to Maria. Some of you will know that at a public exhibition of Tang Soo Do. Maria was supposed to chop a thin tile in half with her bare hand while a grandmaster was going to split a thicker tile. Except that there was a mix up. The grandmaster went first and smashed Maria’s thin tile by mistake, leaving her to attempt the thicker one. Some of us would have passed up the opportunity. Not Maria! She did break it, at the second attempt, but only after breaking her wrist first!
But of course, it takes determination to become a doctor as, once again, some of you will know. And I suggest that it takes determination to do anything well. It may not seem like it today, but it takes determination to be married and to forge a strong marriage.
Sonnets are often about love, but they’re not often about the rough and tumble of everyday loving. They’re usually about an idealised form of love. There’s nothing wrong with having an ideal, a perfect form, of love at which to aim. It helps us to keep on being determined. But nonetheless it is an ideal and, like the colossus on the rugby field or the girl trying to break the grandmaster’s tile, we’re bound to fall short. There are impediments to the marriage of true minds, but determined people don’t have to admit them. They can work around the impediments – be they hectic shift patterns, or demanding relatives, or sleepless children, or accident, illness or old age.
Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, and yet everything alters. A word of advice to everyone here. Never say, ‘You were absolutely lovely when you were 19.’ There is no way back from this mistake. Because the inevitable response is, ‘Are you saying that I’m not lovely now?’
When your life partner is still only 26 you can extricate yourself from this dead end with a fair degree of plausibility if you say, ‘You haven’t changed a bit!’ But will this gambit work quite so well when your partner is 86, or even 46, or – heaven forbid – bald as a coot?
However, it’s an easy mistake to make. I heard a woman say once that when her husband died she lost the last person in the world who looked at her and still saw the 16 year old he had fallen in love with. After his death she knew that people would only see her as old or – if she was fortunate – as middle aged. And I thought, ‘How absolutely true that is.’ Because we do idealise our love, there will always be a level on which our partner never alters in our eyes but remains essentially the same. Love alters not with time’s brief hours and weeks, but bears it out even to the edge of doom.
I said that sonnets are usually an idealised picture of love but, because Shakespeare was a remarkable poet and this is one of his greatest sonnets, he is able to transcend the form and introduce something less than ideal into his image of love. It can be threatened by tempests, and be sure – if you live long enough to come within the compass of time’s sickle – there will be at least the occasional tempest. You will need to be determined to make your love an ever-fixed mark that never alters.
The sort of advice which St Paul gives will stand you in good stead: ‘Hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer and live in harmony with one another.’
One of the things I admire about Maria and Matthew is that they say they want to make the world a better place than they found it. We can all try to do that, with a bit of determination. It doesn’t have to be an individual effort. It’s something we can do together. But, as St Paul puts it, to keep the vision alive, to keep on trying to leave the world better than we found it, we will need zeal, we will need to be ardent to make it happen, we will need high ideals, and we will need determination. And with God’s help all these things are possible.
So let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments. May your love be an ever-fixed mark, a bright star to every wandering bark you meet, and may it continue to shine.