[June 27, 2010] We are here today to celebrate the gift of marriage and to give the gift of Christian marriage to you, ______ and ______, so that throughout your life on earth together, you may remember—in good times and bad—that what you have between you is not only in the sight of God but is His gift to you.
Many people find marriage a burden and regret the vows they have taken. Their relationship is strained and their ability to communicate with each other damaged. Not only do they feel as though they are strangers to each other, they have an accumulation of hurt, memories of things said and done that contradict their intentions when they first married. They may wonder what kind of gift marriage is.
Today I hope we can all be reminded of the essence of marriage, that it is a relationship lived as a gift from God’s hand.
I read a passage from the Apostle Paul describing love and how importance it is. He was not describing marriage but rather the love that Christians must have for one another. It is in fact the nature of Christian community, the glue that holds it together, its true organizing principle.
The church does not exist because believers succeed in loving each other. It exists because their love for one another is a reflection and an overflow of God’s love for them. The source of this love is God. This love is the essence of God’s nature.
The true nature of God is the face-to-face love that the Father and Son have for each other through the Holy Spirit. God is one yet God exists as three Persons, or three “Faces”: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. No one of these Persons is ever alone but always they are in relationship to each other. They are open to each other in perfect fullness. Each shares all that it is and has with the other, giving and receiving in the mutuality of love.
So when God created the human being, He created the human being to reflect what God Himself is. “God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness’ … and God created man in His own image; in the image of God created He him; male and female He created them.”
As the passage I read about Adam and Eve tells us, when the man was first created, he was lonely. He was only a “generic” human being: not yet a man or woman really, for we only become what we are in relation to each other. He was just a generic human being feeling incomplete because, as wonderful as all the creatures of God are, he could not enter into a relationship with any of them, where he could open himself fully and find his love returned in kind, with the freedom of mutuality.
God put this poor human creature to sleep and took from beside his sad heart a rib and made it into a counterpart. They both awoke, and God (it says) brought the woman to the man. The man sees the woman and exclaims, “At last! This one is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”
They face one another and look into each other’s eyes. They see themselves reflected in the face of the other, and yet they also know that the other is not an extension of themselves but is truly an other. In other words, they can relate to each other in their distinct subjectivity. At first they might imagine that the other thinks and feels what they think and feel. But as they look into each other’s eyes, they realize that the other is their own “I am,” distinct from themselves, yet feeling and thinking just as truly as they are.
Unless we encounter each other in this kind of face-to-face, eye-to-eye-ness, there is no love. It is in this otherness and the oneness in this otherness—when a man and a woman open themselves to each other in the risk of love—that we human beings discover the image of God. We are the image of God most perfectly in the relationship of man and woman.
In marriage God gives the man and the woman to each other that they may know love. Their love for one another is a sharing in what God is in Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
But in real life, we often feel like the sad human being in the garden before God took the rib from his side and made them into a man and a woman. We feel alone and isolated. Secretly we know we are empty and not what we’re meant to be. We can even feel this way when we’re married, and then it is particularly painful.
We need to be wounded in our heart by our love for Christ who died in our place. As He suffered on the cross, a spear was thrust into His heart and blood and water flowed out. He was wounded for us, and, when we hear the Gospel of Christ, His love for us sets our hearts aflame through the Holy Spirit that enters us. Our love is awakened for Christ—but also for the other, the other in our sister and brother.
Apart from the love of Christ burning in our heart, we are the image of God and long to be fulfilled by the face of the other, but we may find ourselves cold and empty. But when our wounded hearts come alive with Christ, through the dwelling of the Holy Spirit within us, we have the potential to find in the other the face we seek.
______ and ______, you have both confessed your faith in Christ and love for Him. The flame of the Holy Spirit burns in each of you. In the sovereignty of God the two of you have been brought together and have found in each other the face of the other that will make you whole. I ask you to fan the flame in your heart with the love of God, and join your two flames in one through the sharing of your vows again, in the sight of God, to represent the sharing of your lives.
These vows mean that you are more than just roommates; you more than share your home and material possessions; you more than enjoy each other’s bodies; you more than even care for one another. The love of Christian marriage means you foster openness to one another by communicating with each other. You need to be interested in what the other is feeling, as well as in what they think. Do not only care about each other outwardly. Care about the inside of the other person. Care about what you find there. You need to guard and care for each other’s heart. When you do not understand, you must have absolute respect for each other, especially when you disagree. Even when you do not understand, you need to trust each other’s motives, and be patient.
You need to communicate your emotional needs and desires to one another. You each need to learn to step into the shoes of the other and see things from their perspective, and the other needs to communicate clearly. You don’t do one or the other; do both: be willing to communicate and make yourself vulnerable, and be willing to respect and tenderly know the inside of the other. This long journey is not easy, yet it can be one of the greatest gifts that God gives you on your spiritual journey.
Your relationship to each other is protected by the covenant of marriage, by these vows and promises that you enter into here and now. Marriage is not permission to take each other for granted. Do not allow distance to grow between you. Forgive each other for Christ has forgiven you. Take care of this garden. Water it daily. Nourish it. Remember its source in God. Be wounded by the love of Christ for you, and let that love for you both—the love that forgives and gives you life—continually renew your love for each other. Amen.