April 23, 2014
I was struck by a line in Scripture this past week that I had never noticed before. It occurs in the Garden of Gethsemane as Jesus prays and sweats blood: “Then all the disciples deserted Him and fled.” (Matthew 26:56). All? Yes, all. And that desertion happened among the men Jesus had personally selected as His followers. He who knows all about each one of us chose men who would desert Him when put to the test? We all know what happened after that mass desertion. Those fearful, fleeing men stopped, turned, and seeing their Risen Savior, one of them even said: “My Lord and My God!”
And then came Pentecost. Those men changed. From being fearful and cringing, they changed into bold and undaunted. They proclaimed the truth even when it cost them their lives.
We’ve seen too much hand-wringing during this past Lenten season in the U.S.; all the white flags are fluttering, and the idea that marriage is over in America and perhaps the world is taking hold among the chattering classes. It’s inevitable, they say. How can we “finesse” this issue so we can get about the business of politics -- which is all about money, after all.
And this loss of confidence and nerve is spreading in little waves like a stone thrown in a pond -- even to some timorous souls in the Church. There are some Christian writers and thinkers who are saying, in effect, we have to appeal to the winners to let us be Amish.
Well, they won’t let us be Amish. They are in this for all or nothing. No opposition to marriagending will be tolerated. If you ever opposed them overturning marriage, you will be hounded, harried, and harassed.
So nothing will suffice than for us to stop this headlong flight, turn and face eternal truths, and stand fast.
That’s why my wife and I drove twelve hundred miles over Easter weekend to celebrate a wedding, a true marriage of young Christian friends. We drove deep into the South to witness this great event.
My wife and I remembered the words of the Bishop of London at the Royal Wedding several years ago. He quoted St. Catherine of Siena, saying to the young couple: “Be who God intended you to be and you will set the world on fire.” We wanted to be there to see Ben and Grace set the world on fire.
Because Ben is a young officer in the military, the only time he could get leave was during Easter. And because of that, it was hard to find a church where their ceremony could be held. But if this young couple could not go to the church, the Church could come to them. Wherever two or three are gathered in His Name, Jesus is among us. So they chose a site in a tall building overlooking a lazy, winding river in a beautiful and historic Southern town.
The music provided was appropriate. We entered to the trumpet strains of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” That great Reformation hymn never fails to inspire. As we are seated, Martin Luther’s verse comes to mind:
Though devils all the world should fill,
All eager to devour us,
We tremble not, we fear no ill,
They shall not overpowr us.
The assembly hall is filled with family and friends, well-wishers all. A cloud of witnesses has descended on this scene. The members of the wedding party take their places. The young groom stands tall in his dress uniform. He has six groomsmen standing by. The bride is preceded by her six bridesmaids. The flower girl is the seven-year old sister of the bride. She has been adopted from China. The ring bearer is the four-year old nephew of the groom. “Taylor” has been named for a great Christian missionary to China.
I was honored to read from the Scriptures. From Genesis, I read:
Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
I looked quickly to my right as I read these words. The lovely bride and her six bridesmaids were all arrayed there. To my left stood the towering young groom and his six groomsmen. Male and female, each had taken his place. The ceremony follows Nature. The ceremony affirms Nature. The ceremony celebrates Nature.
We have all been accused of lacking compassion, failing to love our neighbors as ourselves. They routinely picture us as holding tightly onto this red balloon called marriage that we do not want to share.
But we do want to share it. We want to offer true marriage as a powerful response to grievous social problems of poverty, educational deficit, and ill health. We who visit those in prison know we are there surrounded by fatherless young men. We have compassion for them. The divorced and abandoned women of today are Scripture’s needful widows. Marriage can be a blessing to those in the Church, to be sure, but it even blesses those outside the Church. Marriage bashes no one.
In order for us to share the blessing that is marriage, there must yet be marriage. Those who demand an end to marriage as we have known it do not want to share that red balloon. They want to burst it.
There is no rancor, no malice in our defending marriage. We have been given this priceless gift and we want only to pass it on unbroken and unadulterated to today’s young people. There is no thought of hatred in this. Instead, I have been given this Scripture to read from 1 John:
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
Ben and Grace exchange their vows. The groom’s father, a pastor, performs his duty with sureness. Both bride and groom speak clearly and strongly, yet even so their voices crack with the overpowering emotion of the moment. They deeply appreciate this poignant moment they have waited for all their lives. They know what it means to become one flesh in the Lord.
Ben and Grace exchange their rings. Each one knows these rings they will wear until death parts them. Each one knows that these rings are the sign and symbol of their love. They know that marriage has a certain ring to it.