Thursday, July 30, 2015

Marriage is a Dangerous Business

A homily preached at the wedding of Adam and Carly Wassel.

Song of Solomon 2:10-13; 8:6-7

Marriage is a dangerous business.

Love—the kind of love that causes a person to make the reckless choice of signing the rest of one’s life away to the service of another person—isn’t all cooing doves and sweet smelling flowers. Oh it starts out that way, but be on guard! Its dangerous stuff. The author of the Song of Songs—from which our Old Testament lesson comes—describes love with language almost sinister:  Its jealousy is unyielding as the grave! It blazes like a mighty fire! 

In a more contemporary example, June Carter described the experience of falling in love with her husband Johnny Cash this way:
I fell into a burning ring of fire,
I went down, down, down as the flames went higher
 And it burns, burns, burns

It is no wonder that the repeated refrain of the Song of Songs is, “O Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you, do not stir up or awaken love before its time!” Love is not easily extinguished, “many waters cannot quench love,” it is a force that can drive a person to leave house and home, to give everything they have to possess the object of their desire and affection. 

Love is like plutonium. It has explosive power and must be handled with respect, and approached with caution.

It is with this blazing fire, what we call falling in love that marriage begins, but marriage is about more than fireworks . It requires that we go deeper beyond the initial excitement. The experience of falling in love can turn many a person into a pyro maniac. They are forever chasing that rush of euphoria and the dazzling flame. If we play with fire, however, we can easily burn our house to the ground and turn our life to ashes.

No, the initial conflagration of love, is not meant to go on indefinitely. It is foolish to expect that it should. Who could bear to be in that intoxicating agony for even five years let alone a lifetime? How could we possibly carry on with the ordinary business of life in such a state? The wildfire of early courtship becomes the kindling flame of the hearth.

Falling in love is a kind of temporary insanity that causes us to let our guard down long enough to get sucked into a commitment we would probably never make sober minded. Why? Because love—the kind of love that emerges after the fireworks have quieted down—is incredibly difficult.

This is not so much the fire of ecstasy as it is the caldron of purification. The state of marriage, in which two people make vows to love one another for the rest of their lives, is an ascetical discipline designed to make us holy.

We have all heard of monastics who take vows of celibacy in the pursuit of holiness. The vows of marriage are no less demanding. The home and family will be your monastery.

In the Christian faith, we believe that marriage is a sacrament. If you can remember your days of Sunday school or CCD, a sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. So for instance in the sacrament of baptism the water represents the cleansing power of the death and resurrection of Christ to rid us of the stain of sin. In the Eucharist, the bread and wine represent the Body of Christ broken and his blood poured out for our salvation. 

The outward and visible sign of marriage is your spouse. According to Saint Paul, the union of man and woman in the bonds of holy matrimony, is a profound mystery that is meant to represent the love of Christ for his people. 

What this boils down to is that loving your spouse means taking up your cross and following Christ. Marriage is a relationship so intimate and up close that there is no place to hide our deepest sin. Your spouse will be like a mirror in which your own frailty and brokenness will be revealed. You must see these faults as the biggest obstacle to the flourishing of your relationship and never give in to the perpetual temptation to resent your spouse for revealing to you your weakness. Instead you must daily make the choice to put to death this darkness in yourself, and lay down your life for the good of your beloved.
In order to love your spouse you need to constantly practice grace and forgiveness. You must always look beyond your partner’s sin to the person that they can become by God’s grace.  To paraphrase Goethe, if you treat your partner as they are, they will stay the way they are. But if you treat them as they ought to be and could be, they will become a bigger and better person. 

In your desire to be a true and faithful spouse, you can no better than to look to Christ, who being in the very form of God emptied himself and took the form of a servant, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, who loved us while we were yet sinners and died for us to present us to himself as radiant, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

Adam, Carly, love one another as he has loved us. 

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