Weddings are sort of like funerals.
People gather in a church, they see relatives they haven’t seen since the last one, there are both tears and laughter, and family members can feel like they’re losing someone. But perhaps the most important thing that weddings and funerals have in common is that they’re only successful if people are dead. For example, the funeral procession that left the town of Nain on that particular day ended prematurely when Jesus raised the dead son. No more dead son, no more funeral. And while it may not seem like that has anything to do with weddings, the difference is one of degree, rather than kind. Because if a husband and wife are not—from the day of their wedding on—prepared to die, to themselves and to their own selfish interests (which, by the way, will be revealed to you more fully by marriage and having children than by anything else)–if you, Patrick, are not prepared to die to your own interests, and you, Gina, to your own interests, the next fifty or sixty years are not going to go well. As Paul writes to the Philippians: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:3-8, ESV).
The problem is that the old Adam, hiding inside each of us with his selfish interests, with his doubts about the promises of God, with his finely crafted excuse before the face of the Lord, “This woman that You gave me, she made me eat the fruit,” is a good swimmer, and he’s hard to drown. Not only that, but you will be tempted by the devil in ways you’ve never been, and with a ferocious intensity you’ve never seen. The devil often attacks hardest when he’s trying to create division and disunity. As the Teacher Solomon reminds us, it is easier for two to stand against their common enemies like a strong, three-fold cord, and so the devil is going to bite and gnaw that cord until it’s frayed and holding by a single thread. Besides that, the world is not friendly to marriage in general, and even less so to Christian marriage. Nearly everything you see or hear or read in this culture will pierce you with the tiny needles of convenience, selfishness, discontent, and infidelity.
Those are just some of the forms that the wages of sin take in our lives. Is it starting to sound like you’re stepping into a minefield? It should, because you are. In marriage, as in life, there is no room for sappy sentimentality or foolish fairy tales. The reality is that in your life together you will die moment by moment—the only question is whether that death will be one of separation or salvation.
There is a death that leads to separation, and that is the one we were all born dying. But there is another death that leads to salvation and it is one we cannot accomplish in ourselves, no matter how many marriage self-help books we read or how much counseling we have or how many good role models we try to emulate. The death that leads to salvation is the one that Jesus died in your place. Jesus, “who for a little while was made lower than the angels…[who has been] crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9, ESV). That is the death that He has brought about for you as individuals, and for you as husband and wife. In this world, everything is against you staying married until death parts you. In fact, the only place we have Jesus talking about marriage in itself is in response to a question about divorce. That’s how thoroughly sin has infiltrated every good thing created by God in the beginning. And the only way out of that is a new marriage. A marriage that cannot be put asunder by men and women because it is the work of God Himself. And He has given you both His engagement ring, bought with His blood, wrapped around you in baptism, and sealed with the Holy Spirit. He will never divorce you, never be unfaithful, never lie, never desert you. And He has a wedding for you and all His people that costs more than any human wedding: it is the wedding of the Lamb, and on that day, the Lord will finish the death of the old Adam and all things will be made new.
Until then, there is marrying and giving in marriage, and you are doing that today under the sign of the cross and with the blessing of the Lord. Today you cease to be private individuals; today, you become a sign of Christ’s love for the Church and the Church’s devotion to Christ. Patrick, St. Paul holds you to an impossible standard when he instructs husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, even to the point of giving up your life for Gina (Ephesians 5:25-33); but it is for the good of this world that you work and pray to die each day to your own interests for the good of Gina’s. Gina, St. Paul’s words to you are no less impossible when he says that wives shall submit to their husbands as the Church submits to Christ (Ephesians 5:22-24). But that, too, is necessary so that the people around you may see how the Church responds to the love of Christ. Pray and work to die each day to your own interests for the good of Patrick’s. And when you fail, you will also display the unconditional love of Christ, when you forgive each other as Christ has forgiven you. G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “If Americans can be divorced for ‘incompatibility of temper’ I cannot conceive why they are not all divorced. I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one. The whole aim of marriage is to fight through and survive the instant when incompatibility becomes unquestionable. For a man and a woman, as such, are incompatible” (G.K. Chesterton, “The Free Family,” What’s Wrong With the World). If you didn’t know that before today, you will start to figure it out tomorrow. But that’s what sin does: makes us incompatible. But the life you live together in your sinful incompatibility is covered, day by day, moment by moment, with the blood of the One who died to reconcile each of us to His Father, and each of us to the other. And by His Word and Body and Blood He continues to reconcile and restore week by week. And if you know that, then you know that every day is a gift, every breath is grace, and death is only the beginning.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 7/9/10