James and Patricia, it is appropriate that you begin your married life here in the presence of all these witnesses. After all, marriage is public. Not only because of these witnesses, but because the Lord of all public places is here. Your allegiance first and foremost is to this Lord. He is your only comfort in life and in death. In fact, your whole security rests on the faithfulness of this Lord to uphold His promises to you in this sacred occasion.
The Lord that is binding you together today is also placing you in a covenant filled with obligations. The fulfillment of these obligations is what will define your marriage from this day forward. There aren’t enough counseling sessions to cover every possible scenario you will go through as husband and wife. You may remember the right words at the right time, but your actions will need to accompany those words, lest they become clanging cymbals. Marriage is a form of liturgy where a list of rituals are acted out again and again until you learn to become that sacrificial man and woman. First, you are called today to be with one another in the presence of God and these witnesses. Then in this calling you will learn that marriage does not survive without honest confession. And in this confession and repentance, there will be a mutual sharpening of one another. You will learn that falling asleep at night is always best when you are at peace with one another. Then you will eat together. You may even cook together. You will cherish those moments. You will discover that in eating together, in sipping fine wine, you are forming a table of love. And when the dishes are set aside and washed, then God says go and do it again because this is for your good. You will soon learn that it costs to be a lover, that the liturgy and language of love is sacrifice. And you will have many opportunities to speak this language and act out this liturgy. And as this liturgy and language are acted out, the theology of marriage will seem divine and pleasant to study together.
G.K. Chesterton once said that, “The two most incompatible people in the world are a man and a woman.” This is a fact that you will discover very soon. But on the other hand, the two most compatible people in the world are a man and a woman that give themselves fully to speaking the language of sacrifice. Your life-long obligation is to master this language. This is the appealing and lovely theology that you must offer the world with your lives. And make no mistake: they will be watching.
God created you to be desiring creatures. And in marriage your desires are going to be informed not so much on what is best for you, but what is best for the other. Love itself is painful. Love itself demands more than self-service. Love only exists because of the other. Self-love is contradictory, because it is privatized. But love, in its truest sense, is to shower the other with grace, gifts, and gratitude. And this is why in this sense love is suffering, because it entails diminishing yourself for the sake of the other. But it is a suffering with temporal and everlasting rewards.
Scripture tells us that in marriage “two become one”. It is this very intimacy which is both the agony and the ecstasy of marriage, its greatest pleasure and its heaviest burden. Intimacy and vulnerability go together. Love is the greatest joy, and there is no greater suffering than that which is caused by love.
And the art of sacrificing for one another entails a multiple career which demands multiple skills. It demands the patience of a teacher, the technique of a counselor, the diplomacy of a statesman, the justice of a judge, and the humor of a comedian. And as marriage presses on with its regular duties, you will become more efficient in these careers. Don’t worry about mastering these careers overnight. You will have plenty of time to use the words “please, forgive me” in the process. And as you seek to love one another with a Trinitarian-shaped love, you will mature together, and in this maturing you will display this love to the world.
James and Patricia, by birth you were brought into your biological families, by baptism you were brought into God’s family, and by this union you are forming a new family. May this new family be firmly grounded in the Gospel of grace, sustained by the Word of the Lord, nourished by the holy sacraments, and most importantly guided and shaped by the Triune God who by His mercy has brought you together to live out this theology of love and sacrifice in this world.
In The Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.