Sermon for Sunday, September 7, 2014
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
I have a hunch that for many of us here this morning, today is a first. I have a hunch that for many of us, today is the first time we have been present for a marriage on a Sunday within the context of Eucharist. Today is a kind of initiation, then, and I want to use the opportunity of our “initiation” to remind us of something we already know about these three things: marriage, Sunday, and Eucharist.
And I want to start with a story that seems to be told among many families. It goes something like this: Grandma, on her 50th wedding anniversary, was asked by one of her grandkids, “Grandma, in the 50 years you’ve been married, did you ever consider divorce?” Without missing a beat, Grandma says emphatically, “Divorce? Never!” And then, perhaps with a wink, adds, “Murder? DEFINITELY!!!”
I know it’s conventional at weddings to talk about love, but I want to begin this morning with another emotion very close to love, and that I know all married people experience; that is, anger. The 20th century Australian Anglican theologian, John Gaden, noted that marriage produces more anger than any other relationship. Gaden calls marriage a “savage sacrament.”
It is in part because of this anger that the Church blesses marriages. The Church doesn’t bless marriage so that anger might somehow be “cured” – it would be foolish to try to “cure” anger in marriage, for anger is a normal emotion wherever there is deep love – but the Church blesses marriages so that the anger we experience in marriage might be a place for the couple – and us who know and live with and love this couple – of entering more deeply into the Paschal Mystery (that is, Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection).
Jesus’ death must have an occasion of extraordinary anger. Imagine the extreme anger of the religious authorities toward Jesus. Imagine the anger of the soldiers as they beat Jesus – perhaps not anger toward Jesus directly, but anger at something else in their lives that they took out on Jesus. How else could they have beat him so cruelly? Imagine, too, the anger of Judas, perhaps first at Jesus for not being the Messiah he had in mind, and then at himself for betraying Jesus. Jesus’ crucifixion was a nexus of anger.
Jesus’ resurrection reminds us that anger – and the death that can accompany it – have the possibility of being redeemed. And if the anger surrounding Jesus’ death has the possibility of being redeemed, so, then, does anger in our marriages have the possibility of being redeemed. And not just the kind of “redemption” that restores everything to the way it was… marriage’s particular witness points us to a redemption that can result in new life. As Gaden writes: “marriage’s saving grace is that it also provides a context in which [anger] may be processed creatively.” If all the anger that surrounded Jesus’ crucifixion was redeemed and “processed creatively” in Jesus’ resurrection, so does the anger of marriage have the possibility of being “processed creatively” and leading and new life.
I trust, Holly and Beth, that in your twenty-plus years of being together, you have learned the doors that faithfulness can open, that sticking it out and seeking reconciliation – even when things seem arid and diminished – can lead to new life
That may not be the reason, but it is one reason why the Church is in the business of blessing marriages: to harness the energy of all the anger that marriages produce, so that the couple can bear witness to the rest of us of dying and rising, and also so that we can reassure the couple of the new life that is possible as they are faithful to their vows.
Sunday Eucharist. In marriage we ourselves individually make vows to one other individual – it’s Beth and Holly’s voices we will hear shortly making their vows to each other – but vows are not something we can do on our own. Even though vows are permanent and we think of them as something strong, vows are actually quite fragile. And that is why Holly and Beth have chosen to make their vows to each other this morning, on Sunday as the Church gathers: to surround themselves with our company, so that they might have our support on the journey. Many of us have probably seen one or more of “The Lord of the Ring” or “The Hobbit” movies. The Hobbit protagonists of those movies do not go on their epic journeys alone – there is always company. The marriage journey is the same way – these vows do best when we are surrounded by company. Shortly, I will ask if those of us here present will do all in our power to support Holly and Beth in their marriage. We will answer with, “We will.” And Holly and Bath have chosen, not to be married at City Hall in the presence of a few witnesses; they have chosen, not to be married on a Saturday, when many of us might not be available; but they have chosen to be married here on Sunday morning, so that we – their church community – can do all in our power to support them in their marriage. One very concrete way that we can support Beth and Holly in their marriage is to pray for them. At the most recent royal wedding, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, distinguished between “spectators” of weddings, and “witnesses.” “To be a witness is more than a spectator,” he said. “We have to be witnesses in an active sense; the kind of witnesses who really support what is going on.” I urge us to be, not just “spectators” of today’s vows, but “witnesses” who do all in our power to actively support Holly and Beth in their life together, in particular praying for them.
Sunday Eucharist. One of the great symbols of covenant in our Christian tradition is before us every Sunday – the bread and wine, Christ’s body and blood. Holly and Beth have chosen to be married within the context of these symbols, and their choice will serve them well. For as they journey on in the covenant they make with each other, every Sunday Eucharist has the possibility of reminding them, not only of the covenant they have made with each other, but also the covenant that God has made with us in our Baptism. By virtue of our Baptism, we are born into God’s family the Church, we are forgiven our sins, and we are given a new life in the Holy Spirit. And this family, this forgiveness and this new life are just what can help a married couple be faithful to their vows and to find new life in their keeping of them. The family of the Church can support them in their vows. They will have ample opportunity to practice forgiveness. And, God willing, the Spirit will give them reconciliation in such new and creative ways that their marriage will bring new life to them.
I’m going to leave us with words both for Beth and Holly, and then also for the rest of us. First, Beth and Holly. I trust that, in twenty-plus years of being together, you’ve experienced some difficult times. And I trust that you will experience difficult times again. I hope that, as you go through difficult times, you may remember how God is always laboring on our behalf and can use all parts of our lives for our good. Even the difficult parts. I am remembering the words of the prophet Jeremiah as he looked out over the rubble of the destroyed city of Jerusalem. Even then, amid the rubble, he knew God’s hope. He wrote: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning; great is his faithfulness.” I hope you, too, may always remember the Lord’s steadfast love and His mercies new every morning. God is always striving to bring you to new life.
And for the rest of us… In the prayers we will pray shortly, we will pray “that all married persons who have witnessed these vows may find their lives strengthened and their loyalties confirmed.” I realize that not everybody here this morning is married, but I hope that those of us who are, as we witness Holly and Beth make their vows to each other, will indeed find our lives strengthened and our loyalties confirmed. And I hope that all of us will find our lives strengthened and our loyalties confirmed as we are in covenant with Jesus Christ, who – as one spouse is to another – loves us, has entered into covenant with us, who continually gives of himself for us, who is with us as we fall, who forgives us, and who – as the Christ and if we let him – has the power to raise us up to new life.