Or, more accurately, a real sermon for a fake wedding. This sermon was composed as an assignment for a grad school course in the Sacrament of Marriage, earlier in 2016.
What’s everybody smiling about? Right about now, you’re thinking, “Preacher, that’s the dumbest thing you’ve asked in this sermon yet.” We’re smiling because we’re thrilled to be here with Tim and Genae, joyful to witness the culmination of their relationship and privileged to walk with them as they begin this new, exciting, and truly sacred stage of their lives together. We’re smiling, we’re crying, we’re shaking off goosebumps because we have an intuition, a hint, that we’re getting a glimpse into something that transcends the ordinary, something bigger than ourselves or any two people, something that tells us that, in a real yet still mysterious way, this is what it’s all about.
From Romeo and Juliet down to Sam and Diane or Jim and Pam, the love story has a power to it, something about it that compels us to watch, to root for a couple we don’t really know, even a fictitious one. Even if we’re not given to spend our time with paperback romance novels, there’s something about romantic love which is both deeply private and intimate between the lovers and yet reaches outside itself and calls the rest of us along for the journey. How much more so when it is our own dear friends, our own family, our own brother or sister, our own son or daughter? Tim and Genae, this is your day, your holy moment, and yet all of us are here with this buzzing suspicion that we all have a stake in this.
And in your hearts, you may well feel this, too: the world seems to stop and focus on you, as if to say this is a great day not only for you and for your families about to be joined and for your friends and for this church, but for all humankind and for the very earth and sun and moon and stars.
“This is a great mystery.” That’s what our scripture reading said, and we feel it. We call this moment “magical” as we bumble through our language trying to find a way to put this mystery into words, and that’s fine, but a better word than even that is “sacramental.”
Yes, we’re gathered to support Tim and Genae as they celebrate together one of the great sacraments of our Christian faith. And what is a sacrament, but a symbol, a ritually acted-out sign that is so pregnant with divine potential that it actually makes present what it signifies? As you exchange your consent in a moment and as we witness, be aware that you are God’s designated co-workers, cooperating with the God of Love who is Love to bring something new and wonderful into being. This is a moment of profound grace, grace pouring forth directly from the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ through this moment and into your lives, a grace that tells us that God looks on in favor on what we’re doing today. This grace tells us that the very God who spoke this universe into being from nothingness out of the sheer abundance of his love, the God whose Word became flesh and dwelt among us as our Redeemer, this same God is speaking still, and today, he is speaking your names.
“This is a great mystery,” indeed. “A man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” These are the words of the Genesis account of creation, words that confirm through faith what we already know in our hearts, by our very nature as human beings. St. John Paul spoke of a spousal or nuptial meaning of the body. In order to truly flourish, we can’t remain trapped in our own skin, isolated little islands in an ocean of strangers, but we must reach beyond ourselves in love, uniting with others and together creating newness around us, in a way fitting with whatever our vocation may be. Yes, we find love stories so compelling because in our inmost beings we are made for them. We are all characters in the great love story between God and humanity. All of creation is a love story, written by Love, written with Love. Love alone satisfies, love alone is worth dying for–or, even more powerfully, living for–, love alone is real.
“This is a great mystery,” the inspired writer says and then goes on: “I speak in reference to Christ and the Church.” In their Christian marriage, enlivened and empowered by the grace of this sacrament, Tim and Genae stand before us and before the world as living symbols of Christ and the Church, of their unbreakable and fruitful covenant union. What a gift! What an honor! What a tremendous thing you have been called to this day!
In Christ, the ultimate boundary, the separation of God and creation, is shown to be fluid. The great chasm is crossed, the walls of Jericho fall down, and in one divine person, a marriage is made between God and humanity. In the one-flesh union between the divine and the human that is Jesus Christ, we find our salvation, and are elevated beyond the limits of a fallen and often painful existence into new life, a life which does not rip us from our bodies but brings healing and wholeness to our bodies, to our whole selves.
This healing and wholeness in Christ is ours because, in his human nature, Christ is not alone but the first of many brothers and sisters, called into a covenant of adoption by his Father and wedded to him as his people, his Church. In this one-flesh union between Christ and his Church–Christ and his people, Christ and us–is the source of all faith, all hope, all love.
Tim and Genae, today you become living, breathing, walking signs of that great union, of that great love. Today you commit to a life of total self-gift to one another, subordinating your own wills to the will of the other. With open hearts and minds, with the support of this community gathered here, and by the grace of this sacrament, you will live that union well. You’ll live it well and it will blossom. We pray not only for you but for the children we ask our God to bless you with, children you’ll love in ways you never dreamed possible, children who will be your legacy and the harbingers of your love, who will ensure that the great mystery of your unbreakable love will echo through the ages, and the world will never be the same.
There’s more to the story than that, of course. We know that there are great challenges in marriage, just as there are in anything worth doing. We know families often fall short of their sacred calling. When those darker moments threaten, don’t let them have the last word. Look back to this moment, to the divine source of grace who brought you here, and to us gathered in support of you, and know that God’s grace is inexhaustible. Christ’s union with his family can never be broken, and will remain a source to empower your own union and strengthen your own family as long as you both shall live.