Act II, Scene II, again: the Capulet’s orchard. You remember the set-up. Juliet is on her balcony; Romeo is below on the ground. Juliet has been called inside by her Nurse, but unable to tear herself away from Romeo, twice she slips back out to shower him with sweet “good nights” till they shall meet again.
Her second return to the balcony is unexpected; Romeo has begun to exit, as the stage directions make clear. But his beloved calls him back with a “Hist! Romeo. Hist!” The two confirm the time of their next meeting: “At the hour of nine.”
Melodramatically, Juliet says, “’tis twenty years till then. I have forgot why I did call thee back.”
Romeo: “Let me stand here till thou remember it.”
Juliet: “I shall forget, to have thee stand there, remembering how I love thy company.”
Romeo: “And I’ll still stay, to have thee still forget, forgetting any other home but this.”
I’ll still stay… forgetting any other home but this.
The balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet impresses itself upon anyone who has ever wished not to have to leave the presence of someone he loves, someone she loves. We know what it feels like to stand there at the train station, watching as the train pulls away, waving with a forced smile to the beautiful face in the window as it passes by. Or to stand, as we used to be able to do, behind the big glass windows at the airport terminal and watch as the plane taxis to the runway and then soars into the sky, carrying our beloved away till… when? – ‘tis twenty years till then, no matter if it should be tomorrow at nine. “Parting,” as Juliet so famously says, “is such sweet sorrow.”
This morning we do a highly peculiar thing as we keep a somewhat peculiar feast of the church. When our regular worship comes to an end we will linger, like lovers reluctant to part. Following somewhat different stage directions, after walking with Jesus around the church, we will place him on his balcony, as it were: the monstrance on the altar. And then, piously, we will gaze at him, present with us in the way he promised to be, even to the end of the ages.
If you want to try to understand the peculiar ritual we will enact at the end of Mass today, you will do well to recall one of those partings in your own life, when you could hardly bear to tear yourself away from someone you love, even if the next time you would see your beloved was only hours away. For it is from this urgent love – the love that causes you to turn around for one more kiss, and then turn around again for another, that compels you to stand there and watch the train disappear along the tracks, or the plane turn into a speck in the sky – it is from this urgent love that the ritual of Benediction flows. Parting is such sweet sorrow, and we don’t want to say goodbye. I’ll still stay, we pray, forgetting any other home but this.
It is rare these days in the church to find a community that is willing to stake out so baldly, with the goofy piety of star-crossed lovers, its love for Jesus. We are willing to teach our kids that Jesus loves them, but we don’t always teach them how to love Jesus back. And, out of - what, a sense of propriety? – we don’t admit that it is possible to love Jesus this much, to want to stay and linger, forgetting why we called Jesus back, not giving a damn that we forgot, and then forgetting for a few moments any other home but this, as we stare up toward the golden rays of his Presence.
I suppose there may be other reasons to gather as the church. There may be other reasons to take on the name and identity of a Christian. There may be other reasons to give one’s self over to the church to be ordained to the priesthood. But I am not sure that any of those reasons is any better than this: that you love Jesus enough to stand there, wishing you did not have to leave his Presence, that you’ll still stay, forgetting any other home but this.
Earlier, on the balcony, after Juliet has assured Romeo of her love, (“I gave thee mine before thou didst request it.”) she goes on: My bounty is as boundless as the sea, / My love as deep: the more I give to thee, / the more I have, for both are infinite.
How brazen of Shakespeare to put such godly words into the mouth of mere Juliet. “My bounty is as boundless as the sea, my love as deep: the more I give to thee, the more I have, for both are infinite.”
The dialogue translates nicely to our own circumstances, and, in fact, seems more true coming to us from the altar than from Juliet’s balcony, since only in Christ can bounty and love be truly infinite. But here, at this altar, the claim that is mere hyperbole on Juliet’s lips becomes deep truth from the mouth of God, “My bounty is as boundless as the sea, my love as deep: the more I give to thee, the more I have, for both are infinite.”
And in the face of such bounty and such love – both truly infinite only here in Christ’s Presence – I find it hard to tear myself away, and I think I’d like still to stay, forgetting any other home but this.
Won’t you stay too?
Preached by Fr. Sean Mullen
18 June 2017
Saint Mark’s Church, Philadelphia