Text: Luke 20:27-40 (resurrection and marriage)
I have been thinking a lot about marriage lately; and for good reason! Kim and I will be married on Saturday evening at Southminster-Steinhauer United Church. And we are happy that so many of you can come to the wedding ceremony.
Given my preoccupation with the wedding, I am intrigued that this week’s Gospel reading is about marriage. In the reading, Jesus says that while people marry in this age, they do not do so after resurrection. In other words, Jesus says there is no marriage in heaven.
I think I can wrap my mind around this thought. Upon death, we are confident that we return to the Source of Love from which we all come. Part of this is an awareness that our individual egos with all their attachments and torments do not survive death.
Heaven is not what we fantasized about as children — a place just like the earth but with the rough bits smoothed away. It does not involve an eternity of golf games, Netflix binge-watching, or marital bliss. Instead, the symbol of heaven points to our reunion with a cosmic Spirit in which the fires of our egos will be extinguished. Heaven is a symbol of completion, unity, and Love.
I fear many things. But death is not one of them. Living has many difficulties; and dying often looks like a frightening ordeal. But death itself — when faced head on and pondered in the light of sacred readings like the one we heard today — is revealed as a gracious reality that frees and heals everyone.
On Remembrance Day, I pray that we might be comforted by such thoughts. This Friday, I will remember not just the terrible losses of war but also St. Paul’s words that death has lost its sting (1 Cor. 15).
No one wants want young people to die in war, whether 100 years ago in Europe or today in Syria and Iraq. But I am comforted when I remember that death — even in war — brings a person to their completion. We don’t wish that completion to happen to anyone in the flower of youth. But whenever death comes — at age 17 or age 107 — I give thanks that in the light of Christ we know it has lost its sting. Death returns all suffering individuals to our Source.
But what do these thoughts mean when we focus on resurrection in the here and now? For me, the path of dying and rising found on the Way of Jesus describes the arc of life. In our youth, we grow and change. At many points, we stumble and move into crisis. With Grace, these crises sometimes help us to die to old ways and be born-again into a life of the Spirit that is closer to Love.
But if we accept the Grace to become born-again in the Spirit, is Jesus suggesting that we shouldn’t marry?
St. Paul seemed to believe this. In his first letter to the church in Corinth Paul writes that “it is a good thing to remain unattached as I am” (1 Cor. 7).
The prayer of Jesus, which is usually called “The Lord’s Prayer,” expresses the wish that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. When heard in combination with Jesus’ words about marriage, does this mean it is God’s will that we shouldn’t experience romance, sex, or marriage?
Well, I for one hope not! I am happy that I met Kim last year. I have loved being engaged this past year. I am excited about the wedding ceremony next Saturday. And I look forward in hope to many years of married life.
There is no doubt that marriage is an earthly pursuit. It involves desire, domesticity, and all the petty details of daily life. Marriage is mundane, grounded, and lived in the flesh of foolish individuals.
At the same, we are spiritual beings. Each of us is lit up with an inner spark of God’s light. We all reach for the stars in dreams of many kinds.
For these reasons, marriage can be both sacred and profane; both heaven-directed and earth-bound; both spiritual and soulful.
To fall in love and create a family is to embark on a mundane path that will inevitably fall short of our spiritual ambitions. Happily, the Way of Jesus shows that it is precisely in the difficulties of the journey that we might gain access to resurrected life. When we fail, we get a chance to be painfully disillusioned and so find an opening in which we can rise to new levels of love and joy.
Next Saturday’s wedding will begin a second marriage for both Kim and me. But despite being older and wiser than when I first married in my 30s, I come to this second marriage with a full range of foibles, fears, and flaws. I have no doubt that like my first one I will stumble in this second one.
What is different this time is my confidence. This is not confidence in myself or even in Kim. It is confidence in the relationship. I may often act in ways I judge to be flawed, fearful and foolish. But I am confident that the relationship between Kim and me contains what we need to turn our humiliations into humility, our impasses into epiphanies, and our blind spots into enlightenment.
A sacred marriage is not about perfecting the two individuals involved. It is about inhabiting a crucible in which we can wake up to the truth that life is not about us. Life is about superseding the desires and terrors of our egos and rising ever closer to God’s Love. This sacred dimension of life is revealed in the glimpses of eternity we experience this side of the grave.
In the end, our egos will be extinguished. But the relationships we stumble into are connected to the cosmos, human history, and to everything happening at this moment. This is another way of saying that our relationships are connected to the eternal source we call God.
We do not survive forever. But God’s Love is forever, and our sacred relationships participate in that eternity. This is true for all the many relationships present here in the beloved community of Mill Woods United.
I am glad that I now see all this more clearly than when I was in my 30s. Nevertheless, I still see it only in part, and as through a glass darkly. But when the completeness finally does come, I am confident that we will all see Love face to face and know it fully as we are known fully.
A marriage contains two individuals and a million complications. But a sacred relationship only has three basic elements: faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love.
And for this truth, I say again, “Thanks be to God.”