A little more that 26 years ago, we were standing in the front of the church. Friends and family had gathered to watch us get married. It was a scene we’d witnessed many times over, but this time, it was us!
At some point during the ceremony, the officiant launched into his wedding homily. I’d been to many weddings before and heard many wedding sermons, most of them both predictable and frankly, a lot of them were rather forgettable. Usually they expound on 1st Corinthians 13 or something like that.
But when he started talking, he got my attention with the first words out of his mouth, “Marriage changes everyone,” he said, “but not all marriages are redemptive.” And then he went on, addressing both us and the crowd who sat in the pews behind us.
“Everyone in this room who is married was once standing up here, just like you are. The bride was radiant and beautiful. Like you,” he said looking at Nita, my wife to be, “she had been chosen, and you could see it on her face. And like you,” he said to me, “the groom, who dresses up nicely, is full of hope and expectation. If you were to describe these two as a garden, they would be lush and verdant, full of flowers and trees and fruit – a rich array of abundance and beauty.”
“But sometimes, because of the way they treat one another, sometimes that beautiful garden turns into something else. Untended, it can become overgrown and full of weeds, a tangled mess. Flowers and fruit are choked out, and it hardly looks like the garden it once was. And sometimes, it’s even worse than that. Sometimes, the formerly lush garden turns into a burned out landscape.
“Marriage changes everyone,” he repeated, “but not all marriages are redemptive. Let me explain what that means.”
The preacher, who was also a good friend, looked at me and then looked at her. Addressing Nita he said, “I have known this man when he would rather die than make a decision.” At this point, the crowd erupted into laughter and applause, though I failed to see the humor in it. He went on, “And while he is quite capable of being decisive, there will be times when you will feel the hurt of his refusal to engage fully in his world. And when he harms you this way, more than anyone in this world, you will be able to offer him forgiveness, and invite him back to be the man God made him to be.”
And then he looked at Nita, looked back at me and said, “You are marrying a very verbal woman.” The crowd laughed and applauded again. Now that one was funny! “While there will be times when she will bless you with her words, sometimes there will be things that she says that will cut deeply. And when she harms you with her words, you, more than anyone in the world, will be able to offer her forgiveness, and invite her back to the woman God made her to be.”
“Marriage,” he repeated, “changes everyone. But not all marriages are redemptive.”
“A redemptive marriage is one where you hold the mirror up to one another, showing each other both your glory and your sin. It means enjoying the good gifts you give to one another and offering forgiveness and grace when you fail one another. If you do this, your marriage will not simply change you, but will redeem you.”
I know he said some other things after that, but what I remember is the idea that everyone who gets married, changes. The question (and the task) of marriage is to decide what kind of change that will be.
That challenge, given to us twenty-six years ago, has changed the course of our marriage. It’s made us ask one another harder questions. It’s made us learn to forgive. It’s given us the courage to hold the mirror up to one another, that we can enjoy the good things and deal with the bad things. It’s given us the chance to offer mercy and grace and to offer the invitation to more.
But mostly, it’s answered the question about what marriage is for: Marriage is something God created not only to meet us in our loneliness, but something created to help to redeem us, to make us more like Him.