A Sermon preached at the end of last year (2011) in a Morning Prayer service for Trinity School for Ministry.
In today’s Gospel reading we see Jesus cofounding the Sadducees attempt to make him appear foolish. The Sadducees deny the resurrection and so their question is not asked in sincerity, but is in reality an attempt to poke fun at what they believe to be absurd. Jesus responds ingeniously, confirming the reality of the resurrection. Those who have died are alive to God, and through the power of God, will share in the life of the age to come.
In the process of doing so, however, Jesus says something that is disturbing to many: “in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven.” What?! Marriage is one of our most cherished institutions and among the greatest joys of this life. How can it be that it should be excluded from the age to come? Doesn’t this suggest a rather dim view of marriage?
I would submit to you that perhaps marriage will not be abolished in the age to come, but rather fulfilled. We have yet to know the fullness of what marriage is communicating to us. In this world we see “as in a mirror dimly” but in the resurrection we shall no longer live amidst the shadows of things, but like the angels who look upon the face of God, heaven shall be our natural habitat. We will see behind the veil to the true meaning of our life here.
C.S. Lewis’ novel “The GreatDivorce” depicts a group of tourist visiting the outskirts of Heaven. The residents of Heaven try to encourage them to stay, but in order to do so each tourist must give up their particular form of idolatry. One of the tourists is an artist who immediately sets up his easel and begins painting. His heavenly companion informs him that this is simply out of place saying,
“When you painted on earth it was because you caught glimpses of Heaven in the earthly landscape. The success of your painting was that it enabled others to see the glimpses too. But here you are having the thing itself. It is from here that the messages came…Why, if you are interested in the country only for the sake of painting it, you’ll never learn to see the country.”
If we insist on marriage for its own sake as being our only hope for happiness and fulfillment, we will never learn to see through it to that heavenly country of which it is a foretaste.
I haven’t been married long, but one thing I have learned about marriage is that it is not primarily about me and my own happiness and fulfillment. Without that crucial insight, I would only be setting myself up for disappointment and disillusionment. Ironically, the true joy of marriage would elude me. Marriage instead is a foretaste and a preparation for the age to come. Through each day learning what it means to lay down my life for my wife, the dross of my selfishness is being purged. Through loving and being loved by my wife, God is teaching me what it means to love and be loved by him. Through forsaking all other partners, God is showing me what it means to love him alone with all my heart soul mind and strength. The Death to self in true matrimonial love, sets before us the cross on which the son of God offered his life for our life.
I believe it is no accident that Revelation describes the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven like a bride adorned for her husband. This is the reality of which marriage is a sign. Just as the fracturing and ruin of creation begins with man and woman being put at enmity with one another, so marriage is meant to point us forward to God’s promised restoration, the New heavens and the new earth. Indeed, the Scriptures are full of references to the covenant-love of God and the life of his kingdom being like marriage. In Ephesians 5 Saint Paul teaches us that marriage is a profound mystery that speaks of the love of Christ for his Church. Indeed in the opening of the Chapter of which today’s reading is a part, Jesus says “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son” (Matthew 22:2 ESV)
Mike Mason, in his book The Mystery of Marriage insightfully suggest this about our passage,
“Considering the rich imagery of weddings and marriage throughout the Bible, it seems more probable that far from there being no marriage in Heaven, what Jesus must really have been getting at is that Heaven will be all marriage. Indeed, in earthly marriage we may detect the sign and promise that in eternity everyone is to be married to everyone else in some transcendent and unimaginable union, and everyone will love everyone else with an intensity to that which now is called ‘being in love’ and which impels individual couples to spend their whole lives together.”
Marriage is like a journey that a man and woman embark on together. In the age to come they will have arrived at their destination and obtained their goal. So does that mean that they will then part ways? Will the love be all used up? By no means! Think about it like this by way of analogy, children have a very special relationship with their parents, but when they become adults that relationship necessarily changes. I think we can all admit that there would be something dreadfully wrong if my parents still wiped my nose and cut my meat for me! As an adult, my relationship to my parents has changed, but my love for them has not diminished. If anything I love them more, because they helped me become the man I am today. On the other side of the resurrection, my marriage will have in a sense “flown the coop” but my love for my wife will not have diminished. No, we will have simply entered a more glorious and more mature place in our relationship.
In today’s passage Jesus points us forward to that day when marriage will have at last reached its fulfillment. Marriage is a picture of heaven and a preparation for heaven. We should treat it as such. We should love our spouses, and indeed everyone, with a commitment to the person God intends them to be in eternity. Marriage prepares us for eternity but it is not itself eternal. Although marriage finds its end at death, the love that married couples share does not. We cannot know what it will be like when Christ appears and we are changed but in the words of ElizabethBarret-Browning—“If God choose, I shall but love thee better after death.”