Many waters cannot quench love;
rivers cannot wash it away.
Song of Songs 8:7
Today’s lectionary reading comes from one of the great love poems of all time, the Song of Songs which is Solomon’s.
Solomon wrote over 1005 different songs and psalms, but this is the best, “the song of songs.” This book of love songs is laid out as a wedding day drama with distinct scenes and characters. The Shulamite is the Bride, Solomon is the groom, and the daughters of Jerusalem are the chorus. They celebrate the adventures of love-sick young people everywhere; seeking the beloved in the country-side, finding him and embracing him, and making everyone envious of the lover’s good fortune.
The Song contains some of the most beautiful love songs ever composed.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
for now the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away…
The king took me into his banqueting room
And his banner over me was love.
It is significant that the Bible devotes an entire book of poetry to the theme of physical and romantic love between a Bride and a Groom. Though set in ancient Israel, the poetry of love reverberates wherever love is celebrated.
This morning I want to tell you a modern-day great Canadian love story.
It has its beginnings with two teenagers in Quebec, and continues into their old age.
It is the kind of story that warms our hearts and makes us feel special.
It includes no verses of love, but it demonstrates the power and passion of love, something neither war nor time erased.
I believe love is one of the most important emotions humans can have.
The feeling that someone cares for us deeply, and respects us openly, is a great and empowering emotion. It is love that helps us achieve and define our humanness.
From the beginning of life to its very end, love is the only emotion that really matters.
Today’s love story may be a century old, but it still rings true.
Our story begins in Sherbrooke, Quebec, during the last years of World War One.
Henri Bissette went off to fight in the war in 1917, leaving behind his one true love, Emilie Chevrier, whom he had been dating for years. They wrote to each other during the early war years, but letters could not always cross the battle lines.
Then Henri’s family received word that their son was “missing in action.”
When Emilie heard the news, she was devastated and refused to believe he was gone. But after six months of silence, Emilie realized that she would never see her beloved Henri again.
Then, as if from beyond the grave, Emilie received a letter from Henri written a year before he went missing and was presumed dead.
It was truly a love letter.
In the letter he describes his feelings of desperation and his longing to leave the horrific war. His only desire was to return home to Canada so that he and Emilie could be married.
Emilie treasured all of Henri’s letters, but this one in particular. It assured her Henri’s love was true, and that she was his one true love.
Emilie felt she could never love another man again. But she was young, and two years later she met a kind and caring man named Joseph, and they got married. Joseph took his bride to Ottawa where they raised a family of our children. They lived happily together for forty years, until Joseph died in 1959. Emilie was 60 years old when Joseph died. She decided to return to her hometown of Sherbrooke, Quebec, to enjoy her retirement years where she grew up.
One day, while shopping in a downtown mall, she met an old school friend from forty years ago, who also had known Henri. She asked about him, and was told that he had died at the end of the first world war.
“How odd,” her friend replied, “I’m sure I remember hearing that Henri bought a farm up north, in the 1930’s.” Emilie told her she must be misinformed.
But the possibility that Henri was still alive, awakened the old flame of affection, and she began her own search for her first love. She was now single again, and had the time to follow up her instincts.
Yes, there was a Henri Bissette, who owned a farm just west of Three Rivers, Quebec. Should she follow her quiet intuition, and go find him?
Let me pause here for a moment, for her decision is the turning point of this story.
Two unusual events took place synchronistically, that is, at the same time and place though unrelated. She did not expect to encounter a high school friend who knew Henri,
and she didn’t expect her old feelings of affection for Henri return so strongly. They had actually never really disappeared. The embers of first love began to send out warmth, strong enough for Emilie to feel them once again.
It is to the credit of Emilie’s inner voice that she would go and find her Henri.
It was more than forty years since the end of World War One. Forty years since she had received news of his death. Whom would she find, when she knocked at the farm door?
Emilie received the shock of her life when he opened the door. A farmer stood in the doorway. But it was her Henri. He had aged, of course, but he was still as handsome as she remembered.
Henri, too, recognized her instantly. “Emilie,” he whispered, out of breath. And trembling with shock and excitement, the two fell into each other’s arms. A lifetime had passed since they had seen each other; two generations had come and gone, but now it felt as if no time had passed at all.
When they calmed down, they both started to talk at once.
Henri had been wounded, and spent over a year in a hospital in Europe. When he finally returned home, he was told the heartbroken Emilie, believing he was dead, had married and moved to Ottawa. He did not pursue her to disrupt her happiness. He had loved her too much. He bought a farm and decided to live alone, knowing Emilie was his one true love.
Forty years of separation easily melted away, and Henri and Emilie were once again in each other’s arms. Finding each other had made them happier than they had ever been.
Of course, the two seniors were married shortly after the reunion, and spent the rest of their retirement years together, on Henri’s farm.
I like this story for many reasons.
1. The Bible teaches us that love is of God, and that where love is, God is.
Whether it is romantic love, or parental love, or friendship love, or religious love, every love story is a story of God. Hence this great Canadian love story, is also a God story.
2. This story shows us that we can love more than one person in a lifetime, that one true love can be followed by others.
Emilie realized she could not fulfil her dreams of love with her first love, so she waited, and then accepted the proposal of another young man. For forty years, Emilie and Joseph loved each other, and raised a family of four children. For better for worse, in joy and sadness, their love for each other carried them through grief and pain, love and laughter.
It was a love match until the death of Joseph, and once again, Emilie was left alone.
I am reminded of the story of a distraught husband who wrote on the tombstone of his wife:
The light of my life has gone out.
A year later, he was back with a can of paint and a paintbrush to add another line:
But I have struck another match.
3. I also like this Canadian story because it has a happy ending.
It’s a wonderful, uplifting story, with love, mystery, coincidence, and a delightful conclusion. It’s a story in which divine Providence had a hand in bringing the couple back together again.
“Coincidence is God’s way of performing miracles anonymously.” I like this phrase, for it explains a lot of the good things that happen in life. Coincidences are not accidents; they are little miracles to make us smile. And the coincidence of events God used in our story, began with the brief encounter Emilie had with a friend in the shopping mall.
Jesus, too, liked happy endings.
In his parables, when something was lost, and then found, Jesus ended the parables with a party to celebrate the returns. For the kingdom of God was like that, full of the lost being found, full of happy surprises, full of good things happening to people.
It’s not an accident of timing that Jesus performed his first miracle at a wedding.
To save the host a major social embarrassment, Jesus turned six jugs of water into wine, so the celebrations could continue into the night. It was just like Jesus to endorse others having a good time.
I conclude with the words of our next hymn, “Love is the touch.” (MV#89)
Love is the touch of intangible joy;
love is the force that no fear can destroy;
love is the goodness we gladly applaud:
God is where love is, for love is of God.
It was written by a member of the Iona community, and honours what I have preaching about this morning: the attributes of romantic love are a gift of God, and should be celebrated in song and with delight.
God is where love is, for love is of God.