Saturday, June 14, 2008

What is Marriage For?

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife (Mark 10:7).

Careful proofreading would have been a good idea.

I had plenty of time before I needed to walk over to Kellett Chapel for the wedding I would conduct. Plenty of time, but little motivation. Sure, I had noticed that my printer was producing pages with a wide swath of blank space in the middle of the text, but it didn’t seem too bad. After all, I’ve done quite a few weddings. I know the drill.

There is however one part of the wedding ceremony that I don’t know, at least not from memory. The Presbyterian Book of Worship includes a piece called “Statement on the Gift of Marriage” as a standard part of the marriage ceremony. It is a well crafted theological reflection on how marriage is created by God and given to us. Marriage isn’t something we do or define. It is something we receive as a gift. This is the only part of a ceremony that I read word for word.

The appointed hour for the ceremony approached. After the chiming of the hour I led the groom and best man into the chapel and waited patiently as the wedding party processed, all culminating in the moment when the bride walked down the aisle.

Things were going perfectly as I concluded my opening prayer and looked down at my notes to read to the couple the “Statement on the Gift of Marriage.” My throat tightened at what I saw on the page; half the text was blurred beyond recognition. It simply wasn’t there. And for one horrifying moment I could not remember why God gave us marriage.

I had to wing it. I don’t even remember what I said as I stumbled through the blurred and faded part and groped my way to the clearly printed text. Whatever I said in those few seconds wasn’t wrong, but neither was it eloquent. I was making it up as I went along. Matrimonial ad-lib.

I knew enough to say that God created marriage. I knew that God had given marriage to us as a gift. I just went blank as to why. And all because of carelessness. I had been going through the wedding motions, and when you go through the motions you forget the real reason for marriage.

This happens all the time, not in weddings but in ordinary homes and ordinary lives. We go through the motions, slipping into careless inattention, neglecting the gift God has given until it suddenly dawns on us that we’ve forgotten what the gift is for.

“For this reason . . . a man is united to his wife.” Jesus deliberately quoted Genesis 2:24. So what’s the reason? Answer: that God made male and female in his image. Marriage was intended to reflect that image. God gives marriage as a means of grace, a mirror of mercy, a living embodiment of God’s own character.

And this gift isn’t just for you (if you’re married). Marriage is given to the world. There’s a nearly universal sense of admiration for couples who have been married a very long time – and both singles and married people feel it. Your marriage is what people can look at and know that God is love and grace is real. Don’t neglect the gift.

Help me today, Lord Jesus, to do more than go through the motions of marriage. While this day may be ordinary, remind me that it is a sacred gift. Help me to embrace my calling to reflect your image to the world, and help me to do so particularly in my marriage and family life. May others be drawn to you by what they see in me, I ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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