Marriage has its roots in the dirt of creation. It isn’t some kind of lofty ideal, a religious concept, some romantic illusion. Marriage is grounded in the dust of our origin, our being male and female made in the image of God. Marriage is about sex and food and drink and house and home and bed and table and children and community. It embraces the fullness of who we are as human beings – the good, the bad, the ugly. Marriage is about sin and grace and forgiveness and faithfulness.
Marriage was invented when God recognized that it wasn’t good for man to be alone, something we men prove to ourselves to the world over and over again. There were lots of great animals to name and hang around with. Everything from aardvark to zebra. But not a suitable helper among them. No companion and counterpart. No one with whom to have communion. And so God put the man to sleep, and from the death of sleep he took a chunk of the man’s side and made a woman. Adam lost something, and he gained something in return. What he lost of himself he now receives as a gift and embraces in the form of another. A woman. She is like him but not like him. Equal but not interchangable. When the man saw the woman God made for him he said, “Finally! She’s like me. Bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh. I’ll call her ishah (woman) for she was taken out of ish (man).”
And that piece of divine creativity sets the pattern which you are following today. A man leaves father and mother and is joined to his bride. Creation echoed. And the two become one flesh, the Bible says, referring, by the way, to what goes on in bed not in church. So it says in the next verse, which seems always to get left out. “They were naked without shame.” Marriage where you can be naked without shame. Any other place, any other way there is shame. Not here. Here God approves and blesses. And what God joins together man can’t separate. Again, we’re talking about what goes on in bed, not in church. Here we’re going to take your word for it, your promise to each other before God and family and friends when you say that you two are coupled exclusively for life. But there, in your marriage bed where you’re naked without shame, that’s where the sacrament of marriage takes place. Communion of man and woman. Two as one flesh. God says so. Don’t mess with it.
You don’t have to be much of a Bible scholar to recognize how much God enjoys this image of marriage. It’s the chief picture of the passion of Christ for His Church. He loves her to death on the cross. It’s the picture of the Church’s passion for Christ. She drops dead to her life and lives joined to her Groom, to Christ. The church is Christ’s Eve, drawing her life from His wounded side as He slept in death on the cross. St. Paul says this is a great mystery, a thing hidden now revealed, that husband and wife embracing one other are a sacramental sign of this passion Christ and the Church. You too. In your married life together you are sacraemental signs for the whole world of what the unconditional, passionate love of Christ for the world is all about. And once you’ve got Christ in the picture, page through your Bibles and you’ll see it all over the place. The sensuous Song of Solomon, which the rabbis kept in a brown paper wrapper until you were eighteen. There’s the passion of the King for his Bride on their wedding day.
The prophet Isaiah who said: For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels….As a young man marries a maiden, so will your sons marry you; as a briedgroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.
The wedding at Cana in Galilee, where Jesus did the first sign that revealed Him to be the creative/redemptive Word, changing 180 gallons of washing water into wedding wine at a wedding party that was already three sheets to the wind.
And that was just a preview of the great picture at the end of the Bible where heaven is seen as a glorified city, risen Jerusalem, processing down the aisle like a bride, being wedded to her bridegroom Jesus and a marriage supper of food and drink that has no end. You are about to become a sign of all that, as you hang out your sign for the world that says Pat and Kelly- established August 18, 2001. You’re promising a lifelong run here, and we’re pulling for you, and praying for you, and promising that we’re going to stand with you in this business of being married. You’re God’s gifts to each other. You’re good for each other. And you’re being together as husband and wife is good for all of us. It strengthens our community. It builds up our congregation. It adds to the backbone of our society, which seems to be increasingly spineless when it comes to marriage. We’re rooting for a lifelong passionate run for the two of you, rooted in the Passion of Jesus and overflowing with passion for each other. Not with your heads up in the clouds, but with all four feet anchored in the dirt of creation, and all four hands at work in harmony.
We harbor no romantic illusions. We’ll have no fakery going on here. Your being married in a church by some guy in a medieval bathrobe doesn’t give your marriage a 60,000 mile lifetime bumper to bumper warrantee. You really have no idea what you’re getting into here today. And there’s no way of finding out in advance. Living together without marriage is just more fakery. You can’t know what it’s like to be married to someone until you marry someone. And from then on it’s improv street theater without a script, for better or worse, richer or poor, in sickness and in health. You can’t trade each other in for a newer, shinier, spiffier model when one or the other breaks down on the road. And if you try, we’re going to run some interference.
You’re going to wake up one morning six or seven years from now, and open a sleepy eye and look at that other person on the pillow next to you, and say to yourself in a moment of introspective panic, “Eee gads! What have I gotten myself into?” And you won’t want to be there, and your mind will wander to greener romantic pastures. And then you’ll see the rings you exchanged, rings that won’t come off because you’re fingers are too fat. And you’ll remember the promises you made, promises that don’t wear out. And you’ll resolved to stick with it. Not because you feel like it but because that’s what married people do. They stick with it and with each other, the way Christ sticks with His Bride the Church.
That’s what it means to be married. To sit down at your table and pour yourselves a glass of wine and toast the most miserable of days and then go to their bed after getting the kids to sleep not burning with honeymoon passion but basking in the glowing embers of commitment and fidelity and faithfulness. And you know what happens? You discover a depth of love that can be experienced no other way.
You talk to that stubborn crowd who have been married fifty or sixty or years. They’ll tell you. You don’t necessarily live happily ever after, but you live. A recent book on marriage reveals that more than half the couples who were completely dissatisfied with their marriages are completely satisfied five years later just for having stuck to it. No counseling, no gimmicks, no techniques. Just hanging in there together – for richer, for poorer, in sickness, in health. Loving, cherishing, forgiving, until one or the other or both of you drop dead in the arms of Jesus.
Marriage is not a romantic ride. Forget romance. Romance is for courtship and dating, and in the days of arranged marriages, for extra-marital affairs. Romance novels end with the couple getting married. Or at least they used to. Now they end with the couple hopping into bed. But the moral of the story is the same either way – that’s the end of romance. Forget romance. That’s behind you. Go for love. Don’t just skip along the surface of love, like a flat stone on a shallow lake. Swim in the deep end. Give us a real marriage to look at. We need it. Don’t play the role of husband and wife. This may be Los Angeles, but marriage ain’t a movie. This is real. Pat, be a real husband to Kelly. She needs that. Be the head of your household. Kelly, be a real wife to Pat. He needs that. Be the body of your household. I know it’s not fashionable to speak this way today, but we haven’t improved marriage one iota with our politically correct silliness. You are head and body joined as one. Draw on each other’s strength and work and play and worship together. Don’t settle for anything less. Give us a real marriage. God knows we need a few.
A few of thoughts along that line, and then we’ll bring the horses into the stable. You know all this stuff, because we’ve spent long hours talking about it. But these good folks haven’t heard it, and it’s the only shot I get, so bear with me.
First, you only need two pieces of furniture to have a marriage – a bed and a table. (For a wonderful exposition on this point, see Robert Farrar Capon, Bed and Board, Simon and Schuster, 1965). Everything else is optional. You don’t need a TV or a stereo or a LazyBoy recliner. But you need a Bed and a Table. A place to eat together and a place to sleep together and whatever else you may do. Those are the places of communion in a marriage, where the liturgy of marriage goes on, where husband and wife commune with each other, where the sacrament of marriage takes place.
When couples come to me for a tune up because their marriage doesn’t seem to be getting the mileage it used to, I’ve learned to ask two simple diagnostic questions: Do you eat together? Do you go to bed at the same time, presumably to the same bed? And the answer is usually no. Or hardly ever. No communion. It’s like a Christian who never prays, never sings a hymn to Christ, never shows up at Jesus’ table except for Christmas and Easter. In the military they call it AWOL. Don’t go AWOL on your marriage. Tend to your Bed and your Board. Eat together. Pray together. Sleep together. Talk. Commune.
You’ll notice the words communication and communion have the same root. Most marriages don’t need more communication. Often when couples communicate more, they discover how much they truly dislike each other. Marriages don’t need communication, they need communion. The best marriage talk is pillow talk and table talk. So guard your Bed and your Board like a hawk. Don’t let anything or anyone interfere.
Second, recognize that Christ is in the middle of everything in your marriage. Notice I didn’t say put Christ in the middle. You don’t put Christ anywhere that He hasn’t already put Himself. Nor do we make Christ anything that He isn’t already. I didn’t say put Christ first, as though He were a priority among your other priorities. He’s the middle, the center, the focus, the source, the Word.
He’s the Word who made you, who called you into existence, who holds you in His death and life, who reconciled you to God together with the whole world on a good Friday between noon and three. It’s His robe of righteousness that you wear like a Teflon suit of forgiveness. It’s His innocence that God sees when He looks at you. It’s His blessedness that is yours. You live under the sign of His Baptism. You are citizens of His kingdom. And so worship Him at your table and at His table. Hear His Word together and pray together at your table. Worship Him in bed, at your table, and at His Table. Worship Him at work and at play. Deal with each other and receive each other through Him. He’s the center of your marriage, not you.
Third, forgive one another. Regularly and recklessly. Jesus pours the good wine of His forgiveness with a generous wrist. Your cup runneth over. Let the overflow flow over to each other. You are justified sinners, as we all are. Sinners to the core justified in the death of Jesus. That means you’re going to step on each other’s toes, but don’t let it stop the dance. God’s not stopping the music. You’re dyed-in-the-wool sinners, but your robes are bleached by the blood of the Lamb. You’re real sinners who really sin, and you’re really forgiven in Jesus. Now live and love in the freedom of that forgiveness.
Forgive one another. Take out the garbage in your marriage. Frequently. Don’t let it accumulate, don’t sweep it under the rug or hide it in the attic. Don’t do like a cat and try to cover it up and pretend it isn’t there. Confess your sins to each other and in the name of Jesus forgive each other as God in Christ has forgiven you, lest it interfere with Bed and your Table. Jesus stands in the middle between you, reconciling you to God, and reconciling you to each other. Forgive each other through Jesus. Let go. Drop dead to each other’s sins and failings and weaknesses. God has dropped dead to yours in the death of Jesus.
Pat and Kelly, we are thrilled for you and we’re thrilled be here today to celebrate your marriage. We pray for you, bless you, and soon we’ll raise a toast of Cana wine to you. May your lives together be rooted in the goodness of God’s creation and the freedom of His redemption. May your bed be passionate and fruitful, a sacramental sign of the Passion of Jesus that embraced the world in His death and the passionate love of the Church for her Savior. May your table be a feast of fat things and fine wines, an appetizer of the marriage supper of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end.
As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.
In the name of Jesus,