(Given by the Rev. C. Wayne Hilliker)
It was the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who once wrote—’It is not love that sustains your marriage, but marriage that sustains your love’. I believe that to be profoundly true. There is something both powerful and enduring in a covenant made before God and before one another. Such a mutual commitment is to be remembered, and in the remembrance there is strengthening.
I must confess that I usually avoid doing a homily like this. The reason is because most of the homilies that I have ever heard offered at marriages by priests and ministers, have been so predictable, and so mundane, and so out of touch with life and marriage as I know it, that I didn’t want to be guilty of a similar commission! Ironically, it is unmarried priests who seem the most willing to offer at weddings their words of wisdom. Those of us who are married, seem a lot less confident! Fortunately, when Ellie and Peter asked if I could share some thoughts at this point in their wedding service, I recalled that I did have in my file, some reflections on marriage that resonate with truth for me. Perhaps they will find a similar resting place with some of you. I am not suggesting these comments describe your marriage or my own. However, I do believe they express some thoughts worth sharing.
The reflection comes from the gifted writer and novelist, Madeleine L’Engle. Her book, The Irrational Season (The Seabury Press, New York, 1977) is this woman’s journey of faith through the seasons of the year and the seasons of the heart. In a chapter entitled “To a long-loved love” she reflects on her marriage to actor Hugh Franklin, in this way:
“It’s an extraordinary thing to me that Hugh and I have been married for 29 years. It is also, I believe, a good marriage, although much of it would not seem to be so in terms of the kind of success commercials would hold out to us. However, our own expectations of marriage were false to start out with.
Neither of us knew the person we had promised to live with for the rest of our lives. The first bitter lessons of marriage consisted in learning to love the person we had actually married, instead of the image we wanted to have married.
We have a theory that one reason our marriage has lasted so long is that we never eat breakfast together…. I’ve learned something else about family and failure and promises: when a promise is broken, the promise still remains. In one way or another, we are all unfaithful to each other…. We do break our most solemn promises, and sometimes we break them when we don’t even realize it…. I can look at the long years of my marriage with gratitude, and hope for many more, only when I accept our failures.
My love for my husband and his for me is in that unknown, underwater area of ourselves where our separations become something new and strange, merge and penetrate like the drops of water in the sea. But we do not lose our solitudes, or our particularity, and we become more than we could alone.
This is mystery. I cannot explain it. But I have learned that it makes up for our clashes, our differences in temperament, our angers, our withdrawals, our failures to understand.
No long-term marriage is made easily, and there have been times when I’ve been so angry or so hurt that I thought my love would never recover. And then, in the midst of near despair, something has happened beneath the surface. A bright little flashing fish of hope has flicked silver fins and the water is bright and suddenly I am returned to a state of love again–till next time.
I’ve learned that there will always be a next time, and that I will submerge in darkness, but that I won’t stay submerged. And each time something has been learned under the waters; something has been gained; and a new kind of love has grown. The best I can ask for is that this love, which has been built on countless failures, will continue to grow. I can say no more than that this is mystery, and gift, and that somehow or other, through grace, our failures can be redeemed and blessed.
May God grant to you Ellie and to you Peter, such a blessing on your marriage. And may we all remember that God created us to be in a caring relationship with one another and all of creation. Today, we gather here to celebrate the mysterious intimacy of the caring love between these two people. And we rejoice in the healing and new life that they and we can come to know in the midst of our frailties and failures. Trusting in God’s promise to be with us, may our hearts be open to God, and to one another, in faithfulness and in hope.
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May there be truth and understanding between you.
May you enjoy length of days, fulfillment of hopes, and peace and contentment of mind.
May God bless and keep you in your celebrating today, and in your living and loving of shalom every day of your lives.
Now we can go in peace and may God’s grace be with us all.
Amen and Amen.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”