Kyle & Amanda: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today you begin your life together as a married couple. And as you know, there’s nothing better for your marriage than God’s Word, his Sacraments, and prayer. Satan is continually at work trying to drive husband and wife apart, and he’s successful more often than not, as the divorce rate shows. But Christ hasn’t left you defenseless against his attacks. There’s nothing better for a marriage than to hear God’s Word together and pray together.
Believe it or not, in the Orthodox church, one of the prayers often used at weddings is a prayer for martyrdom. That might sound odd at first, but it actually gets right at the heart of what Christian marriage is all about: the total giving of oneself for the other, even as Christ gave himself fully for you.
Right before your vows, the two of you will speak a declaration of intent to one another that has been drawn from Ephesians 5. As we’ve seen in our time together in Scripture, St. Paul teaches us that just as the church submits to Christ in everything, it is God’s will for wives to submit to their husbands. And husbands are to love their wives with the self-sacrificial love of Christ, who looked not to his own interests, but gave himself fully for his bride, the Church, even to the point of death. In this way, marriage is a picture of Jesus and the church.
There is no room for selfish domination of the other in marriage, even as there is no selfish domination between Jesus and his bride, the Church. Kyle, in marriage God calls you to deny yourself and model the love of His perfect Son to Amanda. And even though you can never love your wife as fully as Christ loves you, this is what he calls you to strive for, to continually anticipate and meet Amanda’s needs, putting her well-being above your own, even when she fails to love you as she ought. For husbands have Christ as their model, who died for us precisely because we fail to love him as we should. Likewise, husbands are called to put the needs of their wives above their own always, even when they fail to love us as they should. In this way, marriage is similar to martyrdom.
Amanda, you are called to deny yourself and submit to Kyle in all things. Where Kyle is being a faithful model of our Lord’s love to you, this should be quite easy. But even when he’s not, God calls you to submit to him in all things even as the Church submits to Christ. In this way, marriage is similar to martyrdom.
You might wonder why God would set things up this way. Self-sacrifice? Submission? Martyrdom? Yes, because where marriage functions according to God’s will, it cannot fail. A successful and godly marriage is one that lives under the cross–that is, in the forgiveness–of Christ.
As Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Where forgiveness exists, marriages thrive and cannot fail. And for Christians, forgiveness is not optional. There is nothing so terrible you can do, no sin too great, that Jesus won’t forgive you. His forgiveness has no limit. And if our Lord’s forgiveness has no limit, neither should yours, especially toward each other.
I’m not giving you permission to abuse one another and then demand forgiveness. Remember, there’s no room for selfishness where you’re looking after each other’s well being even as Jesus has looked after yours. But when you fail to live perfectly in the love of Christ–and you will from time to time, just like every other couple in human history–but when you do, you are to forgive one another even as you’ve been forgiven by your Lord. No husband can ever love his wife as perfectly as Christ loved us, nor can any wife ever submit to her husband as fully as the Church submits to Christ. And so when you fail, forgive one another. Not only for the sake of your marriage, but for the sake of Jesus. As we pray in the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our trespasses even as we forgive those who trespass against us.” To withhold forgiveness from one another is not only destructive to your marriage, but is to reject Christ as your Lord. Forgive, even as you’ve been forgiven in Christ.
You chose to have Philippians 2 read today at your wedding because it serves as a nice summary of how God desires husband & wife to treat each other. I’d like to close by sharing those words from St. Paul once again:
3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant… [and] humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phi 2:3-8).
Kyle and Amanda, may your marriage always exemplify the self-sacrificial love, submission, and forgiveness of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
+ Rev. Eric Andersen
Philippians 2:1–11; Ephesians 5:22–33
Saturday of the Epiphany of Our Lord, 2012