Congratulations Meg and Tyler!
This past weekend we celebrated the wedding of our dear friends Tyler Jordan and Meg McCall. It was an event filled with the the grace of God, expressed in a truly perfect Spring evening, in the love of parents, friends and the blessed couple. It was conducted in all the glorious, meticulous yet casual elegance of the South Carolina coast. All of our children were in the wedding party (along with many other wonderful folks). I was privileged to be able to deliver this short reflection at the wedding. Thanks to Meg and Tyler for including me!
A wedding is a beautiful thing. It is a celebration, and in life’s troubles we celebrate too little. At a wedding we smile, and cry. We laugh and dance, we eat and drink and send a new couple on their way into life. A wedding is an event where others witness and affirm our vows, in order that others may help hold us to our promises. Wedding ceremonies are much valued in our time, and we spend great amounts of time and treasure to make weddings beautiful and memorable, to make wedding dreams come true.
However, despite its beauty and wonder, the wedding is not an end in itself. It is a gateway which serves to fuse two into one. When a man and woman walk through that gateway, through that portal, they enter into a beautiful mystery.
Beyond the vows, the veil, the ring and the kiss lies previously unseen, unknown garden of their common life together. That life is a new creation waiting to be unveiled and explored, shaped and molded hour by hour, day by day, year by year over a lifetime. In so doing they are living in the spirit and tradition of Adam and Eve all over again.
St. Paul says that this is a great mystery. In Ephesians 5:31-32 he says, after a profound explanation of the relationship of husband and wife, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a profound mystery, but I am talking about Christ and the church.’ We’ll circle back to that last bit in a moment.
Here Paul uses the Greek word Musterion, which means ‘a mystery that can be revealed or discovered through God’s revelation.’
The mystery of marriage is not ineffable, because God who created it is constantly teaching us through it. It is not beyond comprehension. It does, however, require that we be committed in order that we understand its riches and metaphor. It cannot be approached tentatively, with one foot in to test the water, but all in, with all our hearts.
To comprehend the mystery of marriage we can only cross the portal, and in faith and hope and love leap headfirst into the unknown. And it is an unknown.
Dating and courting and all the time we spend together before the vows are exchanged are critical. They help us to learn who it is that we can indeed spend a lifetime loving. But something different and mystical happens when we take the plunge of matrimony. Suddenly, the world takes on a different light in the power and energy of the fusion of two into one.
Through the mystery of marriage, through the great unknown garden of life together, we learn small things. That our beloved is beautiful to us first thing in the morning and last thing at night. That our beloved is a human with frailties, failings and annoying habits, but that they are no worse than our own. We wonder, at times, why they stay with us; at others why we stay with them. And then we all laugh at the fact that we both ask the same questions.
We learn that the one we committed ourselves to is cherished and precious like nothing we ever grasped or imagined.
We learn to be humble and thankful in times of joy and gracious and hopeful in times of suffering. We learn the mystery that those words, so often spoken about richer or poor, sickness and health, take on very real meaning in the hot forging fires of life.
We learn that whatever else may fall apart, whatever else may evaporate before our eyes, whatever trials life visits upon us, if we are together we can endure.
Marriage is the first place where we perhaps truly understand what it means to love someone so much we would rather see ourselves suffer or die than have it happen to our partner.
It is hard to impress upon the young, but in a marriage properly tended, in our own small Garden of Eden, love only grows deeper and wider with every passing year, every financial struggle, every wrinkle, every illness, every success and every day, or night, spent together.
Ultimately we find that looks and wealth come and go, but as we are made more and more into one, the greatest gift is their hand in ours, their warm body sleeping next to our own. This is an ageless, timeless blessing.
This is part of the mystery. The discovery that love is not contingent. That it is not contingent on youth or beauty, success or power. That it simply grows; possibly deepest in trouble, despite how we all hate to pass through it.
Over the years and decades, we become mysteriously intertwined. We are made one by our vows, but we are transformed into one by time, by shared stories, by shared goals and struggles, by neurochemistry… for all we know by genetics as each physiology impacts the other.
If you doubt me, ask those people you know who have loved long and well. It is hard to put into words, but in marriage, in time, the things we thought valuable and desirable fade away, and we desire our beloved above nearly all.
So much so that we cannot fathom, especially in youth, the phrase ‘tell death do we part.’
But that’s where the mystery delves deeper and more wonderful. What we are learning in the mystery of marriage, as wonder after wonder reveal themselves, is that our marriage is a microcosm of the love of Christ for the church.
It teaches us to love unconditionally as he does. It teaches us to love without fail, with no term limits or expiration date. It teaches us to love when we are wounded and when we are hopeful. It teaches us to forgive and love more and more. And it teaches us that all of this is an end, THE end, in itself. We do not love for meals or laundry, for support or company. We love because in love we reach God.
And there is one more thing. This love of Christ for the church will carry us beyond. The painful mystery of separation in this life is not in our power to overcome. But it is in his power. And that is the promise.
Our love for our spouse will be interrupted one day. But it will go on for all eternity in the Kingdom of God as every tear is dried and every sorrow comforted. And in that place we will see the kind of love for all that we in our mortality took a lifetime to learn for only one.
A mystery indeed.
And today, we are witnesses as the story of wonder and mystery begins once again in these two young lives about to become one..
So let there be joy and laughter in all our hearts as we witness things far beyond our comprehension and realize that mystery is all around us today.