Archbishop Beach asked the Bishops of the Anglican Church in North America to highlight marriage in our dioceses this year. As a way of doing that, I’ve asked a group of folks to reflect on what the marriage rite in our new prayer book teaches us about the covenant couples make on their wedding day.
We all know the well-worn (and often somewhat misleading) statistics that point to the demise of marriage. High divorce rates. Increase in cohabitation. Rising birth rates to unwed mothers. The barrage of bad news can leave us despairing. At the same time, marriage is still incredibly popular (70-80% of people in our country will be married at some point). How do we understand this discrepancy between the bad news and the good news? By setting the current state of marriage within the wider story of the Gospel.
Marriage and Creation
According to Genesis 1, on the sixth day of creation, when God made people in His image, He created them male and female. He commands them to be fruitful and multiply as they share His rule over the created order. Here is the heart of marriage, a couple having and raising children while they share in fruitful work in God's creation. Because God wove this union into creation, most people will get married at some point (and many of those who don't make the official commitment will seek out deeply committed relationships that mimic a covenantal relationship).
Marriage and the Fall
The problem with marriage is the same problem that affects every relationship and all of creation: sin. From the moment that Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, their relationship changed. They became ashamed and estranged. They hid from God and from each other. Instead of union and common purpose, they entered into a competition for control. The woman's "desire" will be for her husband (a word used in the next chapter for how sin relates to us). And the husband will "rule" over his wife (a word used in the previous chapters for what the man and the woman were meant to do over the animals). This core brokenness and rebellion leads to the undoing of the relationship the Lord had in mind when he created them male and female.
Marriage and the Cross
Because the Gospel addresses sin, it addresses marriage and offers redemption. In Ephesians 5, Paul offers the antidote to Genesis 3; and antidote that presumes the cross of Christ and the filling of the Holy Spirit! Wives are to submit (instead of seeking to dominate). Husbands are to love their wives (instead of ruling them). The Cross makes a way back to God's original intent for marriage: union, fruitfulness, and common purpose.
Marriage and Consummation
We don't really know what marriage looks like in the coming Kingdom. Jesus says that we neither marry nor are given in marriage in the Kingdom. I'm not sure what exactly that means; except that the experience of heaven wraps into itself the union, fruitfulness, and common purpose that is expressed in marriage. The joy of heaven will be even greater than that of the best marriage.
As we reflect together on marriage over the next weeks, my prayer is that the "bonds of affection" between spouses would be strengthened, that we would find new ways of expressing the meaning of marriage, and that we would discover new tools for helping others deepen their lives together.
Glad to be growing with you in this area (and super glad to be married to such an extraordinary woman!).