Homily at the renewal of my parents wedding vows on their 42nd anniversary. This year is their 45th.
Ephesians 5:25-33 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
I have often told young couples entering marriage that they are not getting married for their comfort. This is always hard to for them to understand. In the first bloom of love – when two people are promising themselves to one another – that can seem a bit like a wet blanket.
Young couples have a hard time imagining that wedded bliss would be anything but happiness – they implicitly believe marriage guarantees fulfillment, unconditional love and the absence of conflict. Young men can’t wait to come home after a long day at the office to a perfectly clean house, where the little woman has dinner ready and piled high on the table. Young ladies can’t wait for the security, safety and protection their doting husbands will provide. Someone who finally understands them.
To try to tell the dewy eyed couple that marriage is meant to sanctify them in the most thorough and crushing and glorious way – is hard to pull off. Living 24/7 with someone who is going to know everything ugly, as well as, every beautiful thing about you – is a dangerous prospect.
To enter life with someone who, within a short time, will learn your deepest fears, the exact word to set you off, all the buttons and the proper combination of buttons, that turn you into a maniac. To have the highest hope for someone – who lets you down the most. To try to convince young couples that, like the path of our Lord, marriage is one of selflessness, sorrow, self-denial, humility, service and fellowship that leads to the highest vistas of glorious joy. That is a hard sell. Marriage was not created for comfort. But everything I am saying falls on hard ears in our day.
Our example of marriage comes from pop culture, mostly Hollywood. But when we turn to Ephesians we see what the real example of marriage is. God created marriage to teach us about Christ and the Christian life. This is a great mystery. Marriage is a mystery. Anyone married for any length of time can admit this.
But God didn’t look into creation to find a handy metaphor for Jesus and the church – and O’ look – marriage. Marriage was created to be a metaphor. And the metaphor is about Jesus and the Church. Husband are called to love their wives like Christ loves His bride – the church. Wait, the husband asks, I’m supposed to die for her sins?
No. But for whose benefit to Christ come into the world? His own? Or for us – the church. Did Christ suffer? Did Jesus live sacrificially? Did he provide the church with what it wanted or what it needed – there is a major difference between the two.
Man washes His wife with the word of God, just as God washes the believer with the water of baptism. Jesus sanctified His bride with His love. He loved her in such a way that the bride of Christ was made more beautiful. The wife is beautified by the love of her husband.
And what is love? 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Well. That is a high calling. Who is sufficient for such things? What man can live up to this standard? None. That’s why we need Jesus. God is love and Jesus is God. So, the husband sees His calling and goes to the one who provides all the things he isn’t.
The Aposlte Paul said “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
So the Husband humbles Himself and learns to cry out to God, to walk by the Spirit, to repent, to die to Himself for the sake of His wife. And as He does so, He preaches the Gospel to His bride – to their children – to their neighbors and friends – to the watching world. He submits to His God and shows His wife how to submit.
And as He does this, the wife gives herself fully and competely to Him. This is frightening. Her husband fails and she has to show Him compassion, walk with Him through it– respect the unrespectable.
She lives sacrificially and selflessly to support Him in His calling. Jesus said He did not come to do His will but the will of the one who sent Him. Just so, wives submit to the will of their husband. All of this requires her to cry out to God, to walk by the Spirit, to repent, to die to herself. And as she does this, the bride preaches the gospel to her husband and their children, friends and neighbors.
Marriage is not for the comfort of our flesh. Not for the sake of our desires. Marriage conforms us to the image of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Luckily, I am not here today to be the wet blanket to a young couple who have no real idea of what they are about to do. Here before you, today, is a couple who is the very example of everything I’ve said.
For 42 years the death and resurrection of marriage has been working on them. Paul and Debra have no dewy eyed dreams – but are convinced that everything I’ve said today is true. After 42 years of sanctification – separations, late nights, 42 thanksgivings, 5 children, 13 grand-children, vacations and after 31 years of policing. After 42 years of plenty and want, joy and in sorrow, sickness and health –after 15,330 days in the grind of marriage – they are doubling down.
In a world where the very meaning of marriage is confused – when divorce rates are high and the American church wanes – this couple, after 42 years of sanctifying marriage, return to the alter – like newlyweds – like children – to thank the Lord of life and dedicate themselves to one another.
They have come here to bow in wonder at the mystery of it all. Full of thanksgiving. Full of love. Today we acknowledge that God brings life out of death. Joy out of sorrow. That on the other side of every grave is an open tomb. This is marriage. This is the Gospel.
The Lord has faithfully led Paul and Debra through many years and many things – Hard providences, trials, triumphs and joys. He is faithful and He is good. Behold marriage – the message of the Gospel.