In Praise of
In Praise of Christian Marriage
In these days when civil marriages conducted by marriage celebrants seem to be more frequent and numbers of weddings in churches appear to be diminishing, it’s worth reminding ourselves of the distinctive character of Christian marriage and certainly worth commending it vigorously as part of our pastoral ministry.
There are elements of the marriage relationship expressed clearly and beautifully in our Prayer Book service which are conspicuously lacking in other wedding formats.
First, our Prayer Book service makes the point that Christian marriage isn’t simply a private arrangement between two people. The whole community is involved. Until comparatively recently banns were read in church over three consecutive Sundays, inviting the congregation to register their interest and offer their approval. During the service the congregation is specifically asked, even urged to pledge their support. These are not spectators, simply looking on with wondrous eyes. They are invested. They give a solemn promise to do all in their power to uphold the couple in their marriage. The marriage vows are made in the context of the community and the couple’s relationship becomes embedded in the life of that community.
Secondly, the couple promise to love each other completely, from the depths of their hearts. They promise to support, encourage and cherish each other, no matter what. No matter how life works out. They promise to be there for each other as much as when things are going well as when they’re not: when everything’s comfortable, they are in good health and things are coming together, and then during those times when life’s a struggle, when there’s sickness or disappointment, and there’s pain and sadness. No matter what, they are there for each other. They are never alone. They have each other, always, not just from time to time, when it suits. They will understand each other with a very deep understanding, and they will support, comfort, honour and protect each other, until their life’s end. And their love for each other will never run aground, for it will always be being renewed.
There was a famous writer in the 16th century. She was the abbess of a great monastery. She’s known as Julian of Norwich. She said once – ‘Where there is no love, put love in, and there is love’. Don’t start blaming everybody if there’s no love happening and everyone’s turning out prickly. Do something about it. Put love in. And there’ll be love. This is what the couple promise to do.
Thirdly, it is declared that the couple become such a part of each other that this unity can be expressed only in terms of the unity of Christ and the Church. The one becomes invested and fulfilled in the other and different perspectives and gifts find a fuller and richer expression by virtue of this unity. In this sense they are no longer two disparate, separate people, but one person, united in heart, mind and body.
Fourthly, this unity is declared to be life-long. Marriage isn’t something you do for a while until you think you prefer some other arrangement. Forsaking all others, says the service. The couple is to be faithful to each other, not just while the mood strikes, but as long as they live.
Fifthly, Christian marriage specifically mentions that the couple will grow and develop together. Their horizons will extend. They will embrace new challenges. So they are invited to envisage becoming a family where children may be born and nurtured and embraced with all the love and support and encouragement that they have found to be so real in their own relationship.
Christian marriage stands out more and more distinctively these days. It declares a love which brings the couple together in a unity so profound that can be best appreciated in terms of Christ present and alive with us. The Giver and the Gift become one in the love of the one for the other.
We have an extraordinary heritage to proclaim in terms of Christian marriage, and one suspects, never more so than now.