Posted on July 22nd, 2017
The Marriage of Amy Fleming to Christopher Nuttelman
St. John 20:10-18 + The Eve of St. Mary Magdalene + Our Savior Lutheran Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan
She is not wrong, Mary Magdalene. She sees a Man standing upon the earth. She supposes Him to be the gardener.
She is not wrong. He is.
The first man was designed to be the gardener – to rule on earth as God’s steward. From his side came forth the woman, bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh. She would garden with her man, as co-regent. They received a divine call – to be fruitful and multiply, and so become participants with God in the ongoing act of creation.
They received a divine call – to be fruitful and multiply.
He fell, and in his fall marriage itself became a twisted, misshapen thing. She desired to dominate him, and in turn he ruled her harshly. No longer was he gardener, for the garden was closed to him. Thorns now pricked his fingers. He bled. And the bloods he and his wife mixed bore corrupt fruit. Their son was a murderer. The blood of Abel cried out for vengeance. Thorns spread and covered the earth. Memory of the garden receded into myth, legend, until at last their children’s children sneered that it was a lie. There was no garden. There is no meaning beyond bread and thorns and sex and death.
And suddenly, there He stood. Mary Magdalene is right, supposing Him to be the gardener.
She had come for death. Her Jesus was crucified. Her Jesus had died. And that same death is what calls you, Christopher and Amy, to this altar today. Today you die.
Marriage in Christ is slowly untwisting you from the corruption of the fall.
Marriage is death, but not in the foolish way that men sometimes speak of. Marriage calls you to die to your self, die to your desires and live for the other. And in this death you find the life God meant for you. This process is painful. You are drowned, then lifted up; buried, then made to stand. In the confrontation with your self-love, marriage in Christ is slowly untwisting you from the corruption of the fall. Grafted together, two branches becoming one, you are joined to the Vine. And the Vinedresser prunes you, that you might bear more fruit. It hurts to be pruned. But He is working it for your good.
He who bore the curse upon His brow, wearing the thorns Adam wrought, opening His side for His bride – this Gardener now summons you, Christopher and Amy, to take up the work He gave to our first parents. You are not slaves. You are not animals, to simply serve your basest impulses. You are no mere producers of carbon, as though your very breath was a threat to the environment. You are the crown of God’s creation, son of Adam, daughter of Eve, remade in God’s image. You are stewards of the earth. Today you receive a divine calling: Christopher, love your wife. Amy, submit to your husband. As God wills, be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and bring it under God’s loving dominion.
The goal of Christian marriage is to live into what God called the first gardeners to be. Nothing is “yours” or “mine,” but everything is gift, made by God to enjoy His benefits. You are to each other naked and without shame, nothing hidden, nothing withheld, rejoicing in the otherness, open to life.
When you were ordained, Christopher, a stole was placed around your neck. This yoke of Christ reminds us that the work is God’s and the tools He gives you—the means of grace—are everything you need for His work.
You become yoked together, bound by Christ Himself.
Soon that stole of God’s grace will be wrapped around your joined hands. You become yoked together, bound no longer by your own will or decision, but bound by Christ Himself.
And He is the One who says to you both, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mt 11:28–30). Now there will be times when the burden does not feel light, but heavy. There will be times when the yoke that joins you is digging into your shoulder, pressing you down, and you feel you cannot go on. You feel lonely, misunderstood, ignored. Harsh words still ring in your ears and choke your throat. You may cry without knowing exactly why.
In your difficult times, this is what heals your marriage: returning with Mary to the place of death, you find the Gardener, the living Man who stands upon the earth and forgives sins. With tears cascading down her cheeks, Mary Magdalene was heartened by one word from Jesus, who calls her by name. There in her darkness the Word of Jesus shines like the sun. The resurrection of Jesus changes everything. It gives meaning to all the menial things you do for each other. As you deal with soils and smells; as you change a diaper or wait anxiously in a doctor’s lobby, you are precisely where God wants you, and there in that moment nothing else is more important.
Your marriage in Jesus now forms a choir. Martin Franzmann’s great hymn called each life to be a high doxology. That ideal is what drew you to the Doxology Conference, where you met. Your marriage is for the purpose of doxology. Your marriage forms a choir, singing together perpetual praise to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Your marriage is high doxology to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Basic to singing together is breathing together. Have you ever noticed it, when we sing as one church? We all breathe in together – and we all exhale as one the song of praise. Breathing together as a choir requires discipline, coordination, subordination to the director, our Kantor who is the Holy Spirit. The dialogue of pastor and people is a more advanced form of this art, where a lifetime in liturgy makes us perfectly synchronized: “The Lord be with you / And with your spirit.” “Lift up your hearts / We lift them up unto the Lord.”
It will take time, discipline, coordination, subordination to the Holy Spirit to learn this liturgical dialogue of marriage. “Help me / I will.” “Love me / I do.” “Come home / I’m on my way.”
But things go wrong in the liturgy. A candle won’t stay lit, a disturbance makes you lose your concentration, you lose the pitch, lose your mind and forget your part. And that’s what will happen in the liturgy of marriage. Something goes awry and it starts to feel like everything is now wrong. And that’s when you do the same thing we do in church. Stop, take a breath, go back to the words and move on together.
Right after this account with Mary Magdalene, Jesus breathed out the Holy Spirit on the Church and gave us the gift of forgiveness. That’s the deep breath and the Word we return to when we’ve stumbled and lost our rhythm, lost our pitch. We go back to that word of forgiveness, and we move forward with the sins that once bound us now cast into the depths of the sea, the harsh words remembered no more, the selfishness put away as far as the east is from the west. Blessed is the husband whose transgressions are forgiven. Blessed is the wife whose sins are covered. I said, I will confess my transgressions to my spouse, and the Lord forgave us both the iniquity of our sin.
Jesus Christ is the light of the world. In your family this light shines.
All the cultural markers point to a dramatic decline of the church, as the West dies. But all the evidence today points to a hope beyond this present darkness. Jesus Christ is the light of the world, and in your family this light shines. In you is the life of Jesus. In you is the love of Jesus. He blesses your marriage this day. In Jesus will you die to self. In Jesus will you live. And with Him shall you be forever.∗