Posted on July 6th, 2013
This past Christmas Day you were baptized, Rachael – and what a wonderful day to be baptized! For at Christmas we celebrate that the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, became flesh for us, joining our flesh to His Person.
This wedding, Rachael, is like your baptism all over again. We heard the holy apostle Paul tell us that the husband is to love his wife after the manner of a baptism: Christ cleansed His bride the Church “by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”
You are here today in splendor, Rachael. Life, however, has a way of spoiling the splendor. Bodies droop. Conversation becomes stale. Faces wrinkle. Habits, once cute, grow wearisome.
And that’s before we consider sin. For sinners you are, and sinners you will die. And sin against each other you will. For sin dwells in your flesh.
Therefore I can tell you that the day will come, the day when sin has you by the throat and you are consumed by the thought, “I want out.” On that day you must return to this day and remember that the only way out is through death.
Does that sound terrible? They are terrible words, words that you will declare before God and His Church shortly: “Till death us do part.” It is death, and only death, that ends a marriage – so don’t leave each other, for anything.
But death does more than end a marriage. If you will let it, death begins your marriage. Death makes your marriage. Death is the life of your marriage.
James, you are a man under orders; today you receive the highest commission: be husband to this woman. Would you protect and defend the Constitution of these United States? “To the death,” I hope you would reply. Would you be husband to this woman, protecting and defending her? “To the death,” you must reply.
But there is a far greater death that you must die. It is the death of your passions, the death of your ego, the death of every selfish impulse. “As many of us as were baptized,” says the Holy Apostle Paul, “as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death” (Rom. 6.3). Joined to Jesus in baptism, he says, “our old man was crucified with Him.” That old man, the sinful nature, is what will tempt you to grow tired of this woman, to look at other women, to take your bride for granted, to speak harshly to her, to let love grow cold.
And that’s when you must die again, be crucified again, and remember, “These are my orders, this is the mission: love this woman, die for this woman, die to myself, my desires, my wishes.” This death, James, is not what ends your marriage but what makes it a true marriage, a real marriage.
This same death, Rachael, is what lies behind that seemingly patriarchal, oppressive, cruel word “submit.” Perhaps you say it willingly today, but the last thing anyone wants to do, really, is submit. Yet that is how you die, Rachael. That is how you love this man, this husband who today promises to die for you and die with you. Submit to him, not for his sake, but for Christ’s. For these two things—loving and submitting—are the way you not only build a good marriage but the way you live out the Christian Faith.
As I was walking into the church last night at the rehearsal, I was struck in a new way with the thought that walking toward marriage was walking directly toward the outstretched arms of the dying Jesus. Jesus, the Bridegroom who dies for His bride the Church, who dies for a bride who betrays Him, taunts Him, stabs Him. But still He loves, still He submits, still He forgives.
When you mess up—and you will—when you hurt each other, neglect each other, resent each other, you will have two options. The first is you can negotiate – keep track of who’s done what, how you can make it up; but keeping track of sins and wrongs and hurts only ends with you both losing. The other option is the Christian option: you go back to the death of Jesus, back to your baptism, back to His forgiveness which neither of you deserve. If you live there, live in that death, then you will find life – the life of a good marriage, and the life of the world to come.