Love, All

Life Magazine cover, 1925.

A sermon for a wedding. Though it is unusual to celebrate a marriage during Lent, this was a small service with family in a private home. The scripture readings were 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Psalm 67, Colossians 3:12-17, and John 15:9-12.

We should say at the beginning that Carol and Gordon are NOT getting married simply to have a steady tennis partner, though there are certainly worse reasons for getting married. But their love of tennis, and their love of each other got me thinking about the game of tennis, and especially gave me a chance to look up a question I’ve always had, but never really pursued.

Where does the crazy scoring of tennis come from? You know, the points scored are 15, 30, 40, and then the most baffling score—“love” used to describe zero. If you don’t know tennis, we can illustrate it by imagining when Carol and Gordon first begin a game, Carol serves, they volley a bit and then she hits a nice shot out of Gordon’s reach. This is the first point and she has made it, and so the score is now 15-love. 15 to zero.

Well the long story on the history of tennis scoring is that no one seems to know for sure. Some have suggested that the points originally had some connection to the numbers on a clock: the 15 minute marker, the 30 minute marker, the 45 minute marker (later shortened simply to 40, since that was easier to yell while you’re grunting out a serve.)

As for “love” being the term for zero, there are several suggestions. One imagines that it derives from the French, “l’oeuf,” or egg, since zero sort of looks like a round egg. This is surely the case in cricket, where a “duck” or “duck’s egg” is a score of zero.

Another suggestion for the “love” used in the scoring of tennis has to do with a number of Dutch and Flemish immigrants coming into England in 16th century. There was a phrase using the word, “lof” which meant “honor,” and so if one were playing a game and not scoring, clearly one was doing it for the honor of the thing, rather than some reward.

This gets closer to another explanation for “love” in tennis scoring. And that is to do with the phrase we know in English of doing something “for the love of it.”

I like that explanation best of all, since “For the love of it,” describes well what we do today. It seemed appropriate that today’s Washington Post carried a story about couples who are now legally able to marry in the District of Columbia, and yet some are asking hard questions: should we get married? What’s to be gained? What (of our relationship) might possible be lost, should we get married formally? Might the dynamics, the shape, the feeling of this relationship change in some way if we use the “M” word, and actually get married?

Surely Carol and Gordon have been through these conversations. They know what marriage is, or at least, what it has been. And yet, they also know enough about themselves and each other to know that every marriage is different. A marriage is not a thing that is enshrined before a priest and then remains the same. Marriage changes every day, every minute, really.

Marriage is truly, for the love of it. There are of course some material, social, and legal gains, depending on the couple; but for most people, marriage that is a life-long commitment– with vows and declarations of “I do” and “I will”– is mostly, for the love of it.

As the famous words of St. Paul to the Corinthians remind us, if one goes into love with a selfish motive, one is going to be disappointed. The opposite is true, if one goes into love with no sense of oneself, as though one’s personality were an “oeuf” or a duck egg, a zero, then the marriage is also probably not going to go all that well.

I today’s Gospel Jesus spreads the love he knows and embodies to any who would follow him. And he spreads this love for joy, and so that joy – the joy of all – may be full, complete, and overflowing.

And so, grateful for the love of God that flows into our lives, grateful for the love of friends and family that sustains us and encourages us, we celebrate formally the marriage of Carol and Gordon. May God bless you on and off the court, and whether there are wins or losses, may God always help you remember the love of it, part of which is the love of God that surrounds you, that keeps you, and that blesses you. May the score continue to be what we all feel this day: “Love, all.” In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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