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A Wedding Homily



I: — “Marriage”, says the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, “is not to be entered into lightly”. Indeed it is not, for marriage is the most significant human relationship any man or woman will ever enter upon. So momentous is marriage, so telling, so pervasive is it that it penetrates to our innermost core as no other human bond can. God deems marriage the most pertinent metaphor for his most intimate relationship with his people. Throughout scripture marriage is the commonest analogy for faith. The apostle Paul draws an explicit comparison between marriage and the life Jesus Christ lives with and in his people. So momentous is marriage, so telling is it, that adultery, everywhere in scripture, is the commonest metaphor for idolatry — where idolatry is that violation of the first commandment which entails the violation of all others. So momentous is marriage, again, that both it itself and that faith of which it speaks metaphorically are described as “mystery”. Mystery, according to our Hebrew foreparents, is never something vague or abstract or spooky; rather it is everyday concrete reality, even as this concreteness remains profound — so profound that while it can be pointed to, experienced, commended, and described it can never be explained, much less explained away. No words can finally do justice to mystery.


II: — Jesus insists that marriage involves both leaving and cleaving. “Leaving” implies this: while we are not to neglect, despise, abandon or forget our families once we marry, nonetheless we must understand, as they must understand, that they are no longer the chief source of our human comfort and consolation: our spouse is and ever must be. In the same way we must understand, as they must understand, that they no longer have first claim upon us: our spouse has and ever must have.

And “cleaving”? Jesus insists that as we leave others and cleave to spouse we become “one”, “one flesh”. “One flesh” means one, unitary organism of body, mind and spirit. It does not mean that we become clones of each other or mere functions of each other. It does not mean that personality and individuation have been surrendered. Yet neither does it mean that our new union can be likened to two blocks of wood now glued together. For regardless of how tightly glued they might be they never interpenetrate each other. A “one flesh” union, rather, must be likened to a tree-graft. The graft occurs when two living organisms are opened up to each other, are allowed to pervade and suffuse each other, immerse themselves in each other — and thereafter are fused forever. As this occurs they bring forth fruit in a splendour and munificence they otherwise could not.

When two trees are grafted together each is first slashed sharply. The slash exposes what has been heretofore hidden; it lays bare the innermost substance of each. In this development what each possesses uniquely is made available inimitably to the other. At the same time the slash undeniably renders each tree vulnerable. Plainly, risk of and exposure to vulnerability is the condition of any union worthy of the description, “one flesh”. If two people are to be married in that union of which our Lord speaks then there must be defenceless openness and self-forgetful self-exposure, together with the sober recognition that the fearsomeness of this rent is the condition of the fusion’s fruitfulness.


III: — Yet while all Christians aspire after such a union the ubiquity of the Fall finds anyone’s marriage molested by sin. We ourselves are fallen creatures in whom the image of God is now partially obscured and defaced (even as its lineaments remain recognizable). Individually and collectively our humanity is distorted by depravities within and dangers without. Then marriage will remain resilient, in the face of such depravities and dangers, only by grace, God’s grace. Which is to say, marriage thrives as it aspires to reflect God’s resolve to be faithful to his promises declared to us in Christ Jesus. And since when God’s faithfulness meets our sin it assumes the form of forgiveness, marriage thrives as we extend that pardon which has been quickened by the greater pardon we have received. We must recall the foundation of God’s covenant-faithfulness whenever our proximity to each other fosters friction and magnifies irritability.

Marriage endures by faithfulness. The current myth that has left so many people tasting dust and ashes is that it endures by sentiment. Marriage must continue to thrive even on those occasions — whether short-lived or protracted — when two people are feeling less than enraptured.

A corollary to faithfulness is patience. When grass turns brown in the summer sensible people do not tear up the lawn; they know that in another month the heat will pass and the lawn become green again. Impatience here is not only inappropriate but utterly destructive; it betokens not so much silliness as folly.


IV: — Finally we must remember that while marriage promises a most intimate, rich, and satisfying communion it cannot provide what it was never meant to provide; namely, that profoundest contentment found only in God. To expect husband or wife to provide what no human partner is able to provide; to expect husband or wife to give what only God can is to burden marriage unrealistically. Then we shall always need to hear and heed and cling to him whose burden is light, whose yoke is easy, and whose name is the only name given to us whereby we may be saved.

What God joins together let none of us put asunder — ever.


Victor A. Shepherd
November 1993