Holy Matrimony

It is such a privilege to be here, amongst you, at Father Chris’ invitation. So wonderful for me to be here as my colleague Scott, and his beautiful fiancé Melissa make this great commitment to one another in the sight of God, and before us who are gathered here to support them.  What a great day, what a happy day.

We believe that Our Lord Jesus Christ is here, as he was at that wedding in Cana in Galilee, the scene of his first miracle proclaimed for us from the Gospel of John by Deacon Will.  Not today to provide an abundance of wine from the washing water, but much more significantly to transform this public declaration of love and commitment, into a love feast at which he offers himself as the host that we might share in his life, and as the sacrifice upon this altar for the sake of Scott and Melissa because of his great love for them.  What a great day, what a happy day.

Some people may say that this is the happiest of all days, for Scott, for Melissa, for their families.  But I hope that that is not true.

Weddings take a lot of planning and they cost a fair bit of money and they require dressing up on a scale that is rarely repeated again, and – after all – getting married is not something you do every day of your lives – this is it guys, this is the one time that this will happen in the sight of and with the blessing of God.

So it is easy to see why this myth of your wedding day being the happiest of all days has crept in, and if we are honest, burdened us all with the most unrealistic of expectations.  Call me a misery, but one of the things that I remember most clearly about my wedding day – was the pain in my jaw at the end of the day from having to smile for so many photographs.  When I walk past those photographs in our hallway, that aching sensation in my jaw is the first thing that comes into my mind.

Certainly our culture, including within the Church, puts a lot of energy into encouraging people to find the perfect partner, Mr or Mrs Right and arriving at a wedding day can have taken a lot of heart ache on the way, a lot of soul-searching and questioning, so today isn’t nothing, it isn’t just another normal day, this is not just another Mass (not that any Mass can be that), nor is the party afterwards just another excuse for us to enjoy being with our family and friends.

This is a great day, this is a wonderful and happy day, but – Scott and Melissa – I hope that it isn’t the happiest day of your lives.  How many Hollywood films, end with a wedding, as if that is the climax to the relationship, as if happily ever after now follows as a matter of course, as if this is where the story ends.  Haven’t we been defined to some extent by those depictions, even though we know that they are not true?  What a sad view of the happiness that God wills for both of you if this wedding day is the best that it gets.

Today we are not buying into the view that this is the happiest day of your lives, and that it will be plain sailing from now on. We know that there will be very many challenges that are mixed in with the abundant joys that are ahead for you both.  Nor are we buying into the view that this is the happiest day of your lives and that once you are married it will be all down hill from here!  The suggestion from some, that happiness is transient and doesn’t last, that marriage ends up be the source of unhappiness, that when it doesn’t feel entirely satisfying it should be given up on, as if to say enjoy today because it is not going to last.

All of us are gathered here, with you, in the sight of God this afternoon, willing that that will not be case.  But nevertheless these two views are prevalent – one sickly romantic, the other deeply cynical. That, Scott and Melissa, is what you are up against.

But what you are doing today in this solemnisation of Holy Matrimony, this Sacrament of Christ’s presence at work within you – as you minister this sacrament to each other in his name stands in stark contrast to both of those possibilities.  It is the culmination of this first part of your journeys of moving from two individuals, to being one couple. But it is not the end of the journey!  You are about to experience, in your new home, the security of living in close quarters with each other, and for each other.  You are about to find out things about each other that are only revealed in the daily round of life, and which will be surprising and at times underwhelming.

A wedding doesn’t make a marriage, a lifetime makes a marriage.  The vows that you will make today will declare that you are married, but the months and years that follow will be evidence that these vows are more than mere words.  You are not being asked today ‘do you love each other’, you are being asked, ‘will you love each other’?  Loving each other today is hopefully fairly easy, but the vows you are making are to love each other tomorrow, next year, until the end of your lives.  Love is as much the fruit of marriage as it is the cause.  And your marriage will be a vocation in how to speak truthfully.

Very soon no one in the world will know either of you like you know each other.  In the vows you will make, you are making possible honest speech.  When a relationship is fragile, sometimes lying feels necessary to sustain it, but for those who are married, you can take the risk to speak honestly, you can be free to speak truthfully,  for you are about to say to one another for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer,  in sickness and in health, in other words, whatever happens, you will love and cherish each other.

Your marriage will be a vocation in faithfulness, and Christ – our great High Priest – will share in that vocation.  You are saying today that for the next 10, 20, 50 years or whenever death parts you you are committed to each other, you are for each other, championing each other, as Christ is for you, championing you. No other commitment that you will make in life is similar.

You will be subject to one another out of reverence to Christ, that is how Saint Paul describes it in his Epistle to the Church in Ephesus, as we heard in the text that Jesse read for us.  There is no longer a Scott only, and a Melissa only.  Melissa, there will be times when you as a couple are at an impasse and you must trust Scott to make decisions for the good of both of you.  Scott, you must serve Melissa as Christ serves his Church. These are awesome responsibilities, but never forget that he will be with you.  This is what makes marriage a risk, a joy, an adventure, and – at times – hard work, because the truth is that neither of you have any idea what you are doing today. This is a step of faith.

You will change and grow, and life around you will affect you in different ways, and what will hold you together is God’s love for you, and the promises that you are making to be faithful.

It takes wisdom and grace to live a happy married life.  I often suggest to couples that they should always celebrate one another by making a habit of naming the lovely things about the other.  Today you are promising to love and to cherish one another. If love is the commitment to live for the sake of the other, then cherishing is the joy that you have and give for the other.  Scott if you regularly highlight and celebrate the things that are lovely about Melissa you will encourage more of the same.  Melissa if you regularly focus on what is lacking in Scott you will get more of that! The cherishing is important.

Today is a happy day, a joyful day, it is a day that recognises that there are happy days still to come.  For Scott and Melissa you are beginning the next stage in a wonderful adventure. For your families, a new extended family is being formed.  And we all want you to know that we here for you.  Your guests are not just here for the party afterwards – even if they think that that is the case, they are not just here as distant observers, they too are making a commitment to help you in this journey.

All of us who are here today will be willing you to succeed, and offering you our support along the way.  Because we will re-learn through you what love looks like, what truth sounds like and what faithfulness is.