Posted on December 21st, 2014
David, last night your brother Dan told us about the time you had a week to grow out your hair while playing Jesus in a sixth-grade pageant. With this wedding, you get to resume that role. In your marriage, you play Jesus, you are called to be Jesus to your wife.
This is more a manly thing even than winning second prize in a hairy chest competition.
I have a profound respect for people like you who serve in our armed forces to protect our country. The skill and courage to fight requires strength.
Now as a husband, you will need a different kind of strength. A twentieth century figure I admire is the German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. His older brothers had all fought in the Great War, and he had longed to be like them. When the Nazis came to power, Germany surged with pride. A student asked him what he would do if war came. “I pray that God will give me the strength then not to take up a weapon.”
It takes strength to take up a weapon. It takes a different kind of strength to decide not to. In your marriage, there will be times when you want to take up weapons against each other and go to war. Words are weapons sharper than knives. Don’t shoot unless you intend to kill; don’t speak words that will kill your spouse’s spirit.
So this is your commission, that you be Jesus, David, to Rachel. You won’t always feel like it, but you do it anyway, as devotion to your duty.
What does that really mean, to be Jesus? We have that difficult word propitiation in the third reading: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation of our sins.” Propitiation means to offer a sacrifice to take away wrath, but the main idea for you to remember is that Jesus shoulders the burden for us. Love isn’t how you feel, but what you do to help each other. God’s love is an active, busy thing, reaching out to us to help us. You both show the love of God to each other when you make your lives actively dedicated to serving each other, bearing each other’s burdens.
So that brings us, Rachel, to this awkward, difficult promise you’ll make in a few moments: that you will submit to your husband David. What is going on here? Is this some vestige of misogynistic oppression, a tool of the patriarchy to keep women down?
Well, you know what submission is. It means to be under orders. Without that concept, the Coast Guard, all the armed forces, all our schools, cities, and states would collapse. When I was ordained, I too came under orders, orders to preach Jesus and forgive sins.
So don’t turn away too quickly from this idea that you submit to David. Without submission, your marriage will not be what God intended. But you have to both rid yourselves of the idea that submission in marriage is anything like a military submission to orders. Some have this military idea of the husband barking commands and the wife obeying them.
One of the great doctors of the church, St. John Chrysostom, said,
While this type of obedience may be appropriate in the army, it is ridiculous in the intimate relationship of marriage. The obedient wife does not wait for orders. Rather, she tries to discern her husband’s needs and feeling, and responds in love. When she sees her husband is weary, she encourages him to rest; when she sees him agitated, she soothes him; when he is ill, she nurses and comforts him; when he is happy and elated, she shares his joy.
Yet such obedience should not be confined to the wife; the husband should be obedient in the same way. When she is weary, he should relieve her of her work; when she is sad, he should cherish her, holding her gently in his arms; when she is filled with good cheer, he should also share her good cheer. Thus a good marriage is not a matter of one partner obeying the other, but of both partners obeying each other.
Like you, Jesus spent a lot of time in boats. Once during a storm, Jesus was sleeping. Fearing they were going to sink and drown, the disciples woke Jesus up. They were angry at Him. “Don’t you care that we are drowning?”
Jesus sometimes seems asleep, far away and uncaring. We forget about Him, and then we get upset when He doesn’t immediately fix our problems. David and Rachel, when the storms come, go wake up our Lord Jesus. He is with you in your boat, and you can always go to Him. Go wake Him up, stay close to Him.
So David: Be Jesus to your wife. Bear her burdens, forgive her, protect her.
Rachel: Seek every way to serve this man God gives you.
Both of you, submit to each other, and when the storms come, go to Jesus and wake Him up. By His grace, the ship never sinks. +INJ+