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In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I want to thank you for allowing me to share in this day, along with your family and friends who obviously love you very much. Now, I don’t know Cole and Brittany very well and this might not be how you wanted it, but here we are! So I don’t have any humorous anecdotes to repeat. I don’t have any good stories that will shed light on your love for each other. But I’m sure your family and friends have enough of those; you don’t need me trying to compete with those who know you much better. So thank you for allowing me the privilege of preaching the love of Christ in the midst of marriage, into the midst of your marriage.
I sometimes think that weddings are sort of like funerals. I know that sounds like the beginning of a joke, but hear me out: both weddings and funerals fundamentally change our relationships with each other. However well you think you know each other, I want you to think back on this day in a year, and see if you don’t say, “We didn’t know each other at all!” I would be willing to bet that every married couple here, no matter how long they’ve been married, would agree with me on that. However compatible you think you are, whatever you think you know about the other person, however much time you’ve spent talking about your life together, this is, in fact, the death of all that, and the beginning of a new life. I mean that as literally as possible: this is something new, unlike anything you’ve ever done or imagined. The truth of that will come to you by experience; no one can really teach you or tell you; you will simply learn it in the school of married life. Of course, none of that is anything unique to the marriage of Christians. Anyone who is married will learn those things; and you can learn them the easy way or the hard way, depending on what you expect from marriage. So today is the little death of your old life, and the beginning of a new one.
But there is another way that marriages, and not just weddings, are like funerals. This is the last day that you are two separate people, trying to get for yourself what will make you happy as individuals. In Genesis, after the first wedding, it says: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Jesus Himself repeats these words in Matthew 19 and Mark 10, and adds: “So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (19:6). Even as you retain your own likes and dislikes, even as you keep your own hobbies and friends, you are today being joined together into one flesh by the same God who made you individuals in the first place. That’s not just a metaphor, as you will discover as you live together as husband and wife. Children are the most obvious result of this, since they are actually, visibly, one single person where your two persons have been joined together. Even more, this union means actually dying to yourself, whether you want to or not. Today you may want to; today you will speak with all joy and happiness your vows about what you will do, whether things are good or bad, financially stable or not, healthy or unhealthy. That’s easy today, and necessary. But the vow is not yet the action, and the Lord Himself will teach you in the school of marriage what it means to die to yourself, perhaps more efficiently than in any other area of life.
St. Paul writes in Ephesians 5 that husbands must act like Jesus toward their wives—not only being ready to give up your life for Brittany, but actually, daily, giving yourself up for her. He also writes that wives must act like the Church toward their husbands, submitting themselves to them for the sake of Christ. And in both cases, the husband is put to death for the sake of his wife, and the wife is put to death for the sake of her husband. But those words, “giving himself for her” and “submitting to him,” are not the main verbs in this section of Ephesians. The main verb comes in verse 18: “Be filled with the Holy Spirit.” If either of you are to be toward the other as Christ and the Church, you must be filled with the Holy Spirit. Cole, your sinful flesh will not want to let you give yourself for Brittany; Brittany, your sinful flesh will not want to let you submit yourself to Cole. This is why Christ died and gave himself up for all of us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 5:2), that he might make you holy, cleansing you by the baptismal washing of water with the word, so that He might present you to Himself in splendor beyond any human bride, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, so that you might, with all the saints, be holy and without blemish (5:25-27).
See, you have been baptized: your life together, even as your life apart, is a daily baptism, begun once and continuing ever after. You have already died with Christ, and you have been raised with Him in new life. You have been filled with the Holy Spirit. The hard part is done, and done by Christ, as He has forgiven all of your sins, including the ones you will commit against each other after you are married. So when you find all this much harder than you thought it was going to be; when you wonder how you got into this in the first place; when you don’t want to give yourself and you don’t want to submit; when you’d rather satisfy the desires of your sinful flesh, rather than die to it; look to Christ! Hear His Word together; receive His holy Supper together; be forgiven by Christ, and then forgive each other. In His death, Jesus will be your life, He will be your peace, He will be your holiness, He will be forever the perfect and selfless Bridegroom, who gave Himself for each member of His Bride, the Church.
A marriage, like any life lived in Christ, is a life-long death, a drowning of the old, sinful nature that clings so closely to each of us. But the promise for you is this: Jesus Christ raises the dead. There is nothing He loves more than giving life to dead people. He gives life to dead marriages, He gives life to dead families, He gives life precisely and exactly when there is no other hope. All of this talk about death may seem like a little bit of a damper on the happiest day of your life so far. But that’s what a pastor gets to do!: not give you false comfort, or pious platitudes about happiness and love; instead, I have to tell you the reality of sin in this world, including in your life together. But even more, I get to tell you of the greater reality of Christ and His forgiving Word, which is life itself. Take refuge in Him as your rock and your fortress, a safe place for you and the children God may graciously give you. Take refuge forever in Jesus, who created marriage, who blessed it in the town of Cana with an abundance of wine. There is more heartache in marriage than you know, but also more joy, which will last into eternity.
For Christ’s sake, and in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 5/28/13