As I’ve been thinking about you both and keeping you in my prayers as this day approached, I thought a lot about the reading from Ecclesiastes. It talks about something we all realize – that there is a time and a place for all things. Today you publicly proclaim what your hearts have known for some time – that you want to share all the seasons to come, and all that they will hold with each other. Today you make a promise before these witnesses and God that from this day on, the decisions you make about how you will spend your time and how the future will unfold will not be made by you alone – but together. Your relationship from now on will always be different than it was before today – because the words you are about to say to each other have real power.
I know that today is going to be full of wonderful memories – and so in my words I wanted to share with you today, I decided that I would only give you three words I wanted you to remember. And the first word stems from that reading from Ecclesiastes. The word is “time.”
Philosopher and Theologian Saint Augustine wrote: “Love is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. That is just being “in love” which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. It is like roots that grow toward each other underground, and when all the pretty blossom had fallen from our branches you find that you are one tree and not two.”
The words that Saint Augustine wrote are beautiful and they remind all of us that real love is something that is built over a lifetime of care and forgiveness and work. My first prayer for you today is that you will always give each other the care and attention that a lifelong relationship requires.
When my husband and I got married, an elderly couple gave us an ivy plant – and as they gave it to us, they told us that the ivy plant came from leaves that had been given to them at their wedding 30 years before from a couple who told them that they had been given leaves from that same plant many years before that. Finally they said, “These ivy leaves come from a long line of long marriages – treat them with care.”
Well, I was petrified because before that I used to joke that I could kill even an artificial plant. Suddenly we had this ivy plant that had so much symbolism and history wrapped up in it. I didn’t want to be the one to kill the plant that had been passed down for three generations. And so I tended that plant so carefully. I watched it grow and get stronger and I took clippings from it and made more plants and now we have Ivy all over our house.
But the best part was that tending to those leaves became a ritual of sorts – to remind me that in the same way I had to care for that plant and nurture it – I had to pay attention to my relationship with my husband as well. I couldn’t just ignore the plant and expect it to be fine – and in the same way I have to spend time working to make our relationship stronger and healthier. And it is a process that never ends.
I know you have already begun to understand this in your life together. When we had some time together in recent weeks you spoke this beautiful mutual admiration you share – it grew out of this very natural bond and connection from the start. You described it as a “spark” and you could tell that when you were with each other “something was there.”
By God’s grace that spark has burst into flame over time and we’ll all be praying for you that over the years to come you’ll tend that fire and keep it burning. You’ll always have many commitments and responsibilities vying for your attention – those things will always be there – but do your best to keep one another first. Never forget this day, these vows, the beauty of looking at each other and knowing that God has blessed you both with a great love. Keep these things at the front of your mind, always take time for each other, and the spark that began years ago will never go out.
The second word is a word that is very important especially on a day like today. That is the word “love.” There are three words for love in the greek language – philia, the love shared between friends; eros, which is romantic love; and agape – which is the kind of love God has for us. Agape is the kind of love that always thinks of the “other” first – it is never selfish, it is always kind. While the other kinds of love are necessary, it is this Agape kind of love that makes a true marriage. I don’t think you can rack up too many years of marriage – at least happy marriage – without it.
The scripture reading from I Corinthians talked about that love –that it is patient and kind; it doesn’t keep track of wrongs; it always speaks well of the other person. When I meet with couples who are in trouble, it is almost always because they have lost sight of this Agape love in their relationship. Rather than seeking how they can best love each other, they have started to think instead about what the other person should be doing for them. “How can I love you best” gets replaced with “What have you done for me lately?” – and Agape love never asks that question.
I look at you two and I know you really see each other. You see each other’s good and bad, each other’s quirkiness and brilliance and you celebrate it all. And on this your wedding day my next prayer for you is that you will continue what you have begun – that you will always strive to be absolutely excellent at being each other’s greatest cheerleader and greatest support. That you wake up each day trying to think of ways to make life easier, happier, and sweeter for each other.
But the truth is that there will be times when it isn’t so easy to be that way. Not only will you suffer times when you can’t spend time together, but the hard truth of marriage is that maybe, just maybe a day will come – or even more than a few days – when being together isn’t something you even want to do. The hard truth about sharing in life together for the long haul is that those days come…days when the kind words, the loving actions toward each other won’t be effortless. Every couple reaches some semblance of those dark days – and when those days come, I want you to remember the third word I am sharing with you today. That word is “Emmanuel.”
“Emmanuel” is a wonderful word – it means “God with us.”
God is with us – it’s a promise I want you to never forget. God was with you back when you met outside that English Literature class. God was with you as you began to spend more time together and realize that this connection you felt was something for real. God was with you as you decided that you would be married and God will remain with you long after you leave this place, as you undertake the challenge and joy of becoming parents together and encounter all the years will bring. God is with you.
The reason we come together in this ceremony for you to share your vows is not only to celebrate with family and friends – but we invite God into this space because the kind of promises you are making to each other are more than just a pair of humans can fulfill.
I hope you can take heart in that knowledge – that when the times come that aren’t as easy or sweet as today – you can remember to call on God to help you. God is in this place right now – overjoyed that you have come here to seek God’s blessing on the commitment you are making to each other. Now trust that with that blessing, God will be with you in your marriage as well.
So, time, love, and Emmanuel – those are three words that will be helpful to you as you begin your life together. Please hold them in your heart. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.