The day I’m writing this marks Ed’s and my 25th wedding anniversary. That is astonishing to me. Not that we’ve stuck it out for 25 years – we knew we would, with God’s help: on oath we promised God, each other and those gathered in support of us that we would. What amazes me is that it’s already been two-and-a-half decades! They have flown by ever so swiftly. Such a milestone gives human beings (perhaps especially Christians) the opportunity to reflect on events that filled that time and on the nature of God’s presence in those years. There are many other kinds of signposts in human life that naturally elicit celebration, reflection and thanksgiving, but a marriage milestone does that in a specific way.
I’m quoting from our marriage service regarding the institution and purpose of marriage: “The holy bond of marriage was instituted by God himself at the very dawn of human history. The LORD God in his goodness created us male and female, endowed us with many blessings, and entrusted to us the care of his earth. Marriage is one of those blessings, evidence of God’s grace and intended for the furtherance of his Kingdom. It is God’s purpose that the man and woman become one flesh, that they grow together and are united in love as Christ is united with his Church.
“The union of man and woman in heart, body, mind and spirit is intended for God’s glory and their mutual comfort and help, that they may know each other with delight and tenderness in acts of love and that they may be blessed in the procreation, care and upbringing of children. Marriage, then, is a divine ordinance intended to be a source of happiness to those who enter it, an institution of the highest significance to the human race, and a symbol of Christ and his Church. . . .” And when Christ returns, at the consummation of all things we his Bride will rejoice with him, our Bridegroom, and heartily feast at the wedding supper of the Lamb.
A helpful annual ritual
Marriage is the only human relationship that God established from creation, as Jesus himself told the Pharisees who were trying to trap him with questions about divorce. It is the bond that mirrors the relationship between Christ and his Church. There’s a weighty responsibility on the part of the marriage partners to live up to that reality. A husband and wife must reflect in their marriage Christ’s self-emptying, sacrificing love for his Church. (Since defining marriage has become a contentious issue in modern society I can’t ignore the elephant in the room, but nor can I elaborate. Based on the biblical truths I’ve cited – and there are additional reasons – I believe it is impossible to call any kind of same-sex relationship a marriage.)
Ed and I saved copies of our wedding bulletin. In it, the entire service is written out, including the hymns and the wedding Scripture (Ps. 139). That has allowed us, every year on this date, to re-read the service together. It has become an important ritual.
This morning after breakfast as we read it two things struck me. The first is rather obvious: that we were really re-living that ceremony, re-enacting and renewing the vows we made to each other. The second was clearly seeing, over those 25 years, how the prayers for blessing, guidance, grace and faithfulness that the pastors and congregation prayed on our behalf in September 1990 have been generously, often lavishly, answered by our loving, gracious God, and are still being answered daily. We’ve had the periodic verbal row over the years (though seldom any more). But neither of us would say that marriage itself has been terribly arduous.
Have there been disappointments? Of course. We still live in a fallen world. Ed has a near life-long handicap; I have a decades-long chronic illness. But neither of those has impeded our marriage; quite the opposite. The most painful disappointment was God’s withholding of children from us. I’m convinced we would have been good parents. But clearly God wanted us focused on other relationships and other work, and he blessed each of us with talents accordingly. So it’s still a wonderful thing to recount God’s blessings, to “name them one by one” as the gospel hymn says. Rereading that service compels us to do that.
There’s a centuries-old blessing/admonition that says simply, “Go with God.” A church I know of uses that, and adds, “or don’t go,” citing Exodus 33:15: “If your presence does not go with us, do not lead us from here.” It strikes me that an entire Christian marriage ceremony – the institution, the union, the biblical instruction, the prayers, the hymns – can be summarized in that cryptic phrase.
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