Saturday, 12 May 2012

A wedding sermon (literally) for today

Today I was privileged to conduct the wedding of two previous parishioners, Simon and Sophie. This is the sermon I preached on their chosen reading.

Reading: Ephesians 5:21-32


It is rather a long time since I have conducted a wedding — but not that long, a couple of years.

In that time, however, a revolution has threatened. The last time I conducted a wedding, everyone knew what marriage was. Today, it appears they don’t.

I feel rather like Rip Van Winkle, the character invented by the author of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, except in my case rather than falling asleep for twenty years, I dozed off for twenty minutes only to wake up in a different world.

I can imagine in some circles if I said I was going off to conduct a marriage this afternoon, people saying, “Well it all depends what you mean by marriage.” And I know, looking at the numbers of you here this afternoon, that if I put the question to you, I’d get a variety of different answers unimagineable just a decade ago.

So let’s remind ourselves that, in the Church at least — or at least in the Church of England — we know what we mean by marriage. In the words I read at the start of this service, “Holy Matrimony ... is an honourable estate, instituted of God himself, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church.”

First, it is ‘an honourable estate’. Given that today the word estate is usually used about ‘estate agents’, it might be helpful to explain that the word ‘estate’ original included a position or condition in life.

However, we all have an ‘estate’ in this sense — everybody is something — so the important word is ‘honourable’. Marriage is an honourable estate — it is worthy of our respect, or honour.

For a long time in the history of the church, married people were looked on as a bit weak-willed. The truly holy people were the ones who didn’t get married. But around the time of the Reformation, when the original version of these words was written, the Church got back to the original understanding of Scripture, that marriage is a good thing.

And incidentally, being holy in marriage can be much more difficult than being holy on your own. There’s a whole industry built up around marriage guidance counselling. There’s very little need for singleness guidance counselling, because single people don’t have anyone to argue with. Of course, singleness has its challenges — I know, I was single until just a few years ago. But marriage has its challenges as well. I know.

Secondly, marriage is instituted of God himself. The older version of this service adds “in the time of man’s innocency”.

Where does marriage come from? You find it all over the world, in every human culture. And you find it in many varieties and forms. There are multiple marriages, usually polygamous, there are temporary marriages (in some branches of Islam), there are serial marriages, where people marry and divorce and remarry and divorce again.

But you don’t find marriages in the animal world. Animals mate, but they don’t marry. Marriage requires rationality and reason, it requires at least the idea of society social relationships — this person is married to that person and not to someone else.

Above all, marriage requires the idea of commitment, and for that, you have to have a concept of time and the future.

Mating is for the moment, and the moment lasts as long as the feeling is there. Marriage says, “Not just for now, but for the future. In fact, Christian marriage says, ‘for life’, whatever it may bring.”

And the Christian understanding says this idea of a commitment for life — a binding covenant — comes from God himself. Human covenants will always be temporary and breakable. They will have safety clauses and get-outs. They will have pre-nuptial agreements, which are really just pre-divorce agreements.

But if God treated you and me like that, our relationship with him wouldn’t last five minutes. He commits himself to us by a covenant — what used to be called a Testament, as in ‘will and testament’. And God’s commitment to us in Jesus, what we know as the ‘New Testament’, is permanent and unbreakable, as marriage should be.

And then thirdly, and finally, marriage signifies to us the mystical union that is between Christ and his church.

Marriage is a model, or as we might say, a ‘simulation’. It is not the real thing, but it allows us to get a taste of the real thing.

The real thing is Jesus, the saviour who died for the sake of others, and the church — the people for whom he died and who now live their lives trusting in him. That’s the real thing.

The model — the simulation — is Simon and Sophie, or their parents, or me and my wife Alison, or anyone else who is married. If marriage is going to work, therefore, we must model it on the real thing: Christ and the Church.

That is why we had the word ‘obey’ in the marriage service earlier. In his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul says to wives, to Sophie, “Submit to your husband as the Church does to Christ.”

The day I became a Christian, it was simply a matter of saying to Christ, “I am yours. My life is no longer my own. It is in your hands.” That is the meaning of submission in this context.

And Paul says to husbands, to Simon, “Love your wife as Christ loved the Church.” But how did Christ love the Church? He gave himself for her. He went all the way to the cross, and he did it to make her — the Bible uses the word ‘glorious’: endoxon.

Men — husbands — is that how you view your wife, as something glorious? Until it is, your work is not yet done.

That is marriage, let us remind ourselves. An honourable condition to be in, insituted by God himself, consisting, as in the beginning, of one man with one woman for life, living together as a sign of Christ and the Church, so that all may see the greatness of God and the great things has done for his people.

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  1. A wonderful sermon, Fr. Richardson. The perfect length for a wedding ceremony, it touches on all the right points, and keeps the central message at the core. Thank you for sharing it.

  2. Rev. Richardson:

    This sermon should be added to the list of "Homilies" in the Thirty-nine Articles.

    Well done.

    Although the "Anglican exile" continues here (with some modest efforts for restoration), darker times have existed in history. Educated, Confessional and old Prayer Book Anglican "keep the lights burning in the darkness."

    Donald Philip Veitch
    Jacksonville, North Carolina

  3. Excellent sermon - thank you, John. I feel inspired to plagiarise shamelessly...

  4. John,
    I understand completely that you wanted to share your words at the wedding ceremony you conducted – as much for enlightenment for your non-believing readers as anything else. In that, you are to be commended.

    Nevertheless, I would like to ask a question.
    Civil marriages in registry offices have been in force since 1837. In such ceremonies, no reference may be made to God or to spiritual values. Nonconformist marriage ceremonies do not necessarily employ a liturgy (like my church in our marriage) and therefore do not make procreation a prime purpose but rather that God is invited to become part and parcel of the marriage.

    Would you say that therefore such marriages are NOT “holy matrimony” in the true sense of the word? For myself, I can say that the lack of liturgy has made no difference to the length of time we have been married to one another (now 46 years), nor to the fact that we owe a debt of gratitude to God for keeping it that way, despite many reasons for it being otherwise. Experience also tells me that many civil marriages are long-lasting and stable despite lack of liturgy or reference to God.

    I am also interested in family history. In my research, it was fairly common to find that couples became married to each other once there was proof of a baby on the way. This would tend to give the lie to the statement that sex only featured in the lives of married couples. Clearly no man wanted to marry a woman that was not capable of bearing children – but also, clearly, sex was not restricted to marriage.

    Beryl Polden,

  5. Beryl, if I may reply briefly, the liturgy of the marriage informs us what marriage is, and therefore ought to be. It does not guarantee that this is what people will do. Nevertheless, it gives people something at which to aim.

    The real question for the present is whether marriage has such a 'gold standard' or whether it is something which we can control and adapt at a (sociological) whim. If that is the case, then marriage can, in the end, be anything we like, and we can live as we want without fear of repercussions or retribution. That, of course, has always been a popular point of view.

  6. Tell me, John, do you believe that the causes/reasons for which matrimony/marriage was ordained/given were (a) children, sex and companionship, or (b) companionship, sex and children?

    Steve (VERY happily married for over 30 years, by the way!)

  7. Hi Steve - not sure, but I can spot a bear-trap when I see one. ;-)

  8. Great expectations

    Life is full of surprises, particularly if you are a newly - wed . Expressjodi you a glimpse into the future and tells how to be prepared to face married life

    Love is all about romance whereas marriage is a lot about responsibility. When two different individuals from different backgrounds live together, differences of opinion on things like spending habits, career, having and raising a baby, sharing household responsibilities etc, are bound to crop up, the key is to broaden your outlook and accept all the changes that marriage brings, and to remember that marriage is a momentous change for you and your spouse. And, fear not, over a period of time, you will find a way to make it work.


    With marriage comes a whole lot of responsibility. "From the time you ger married, the decisions you make will not be yours alone, but your partner's as well. This is because your choices will impact both of you. But this doesn't mean that you're tied to a ball and chain. "It only means you have a companion with you for life. In fact, in your capacity as a spouse, you become your partner's caretaker, friend, confidante and even punching bag etc.


    Arguments over money are bound to happen, so be prepared for it. And unless you establish some ground rules for dealing with financial issues, you will continue to have these arguments. Bear in mind that you are now a part of a unit, and no longer flying solo.

    In - laws or outlaws?

    if you thought that marriage is all about sharing your life with your significant other, think again, and this time, factor in your in - laws into the equation. When you're used to a particular lifestyle, moving in with your in - laws can be a rude shock. You will be required to make changes in your daily routine. Like waking up a little earlier to help around the house or rescheduling your plans on weekends or even modifying some of your eating habits. these might seem like an additional burden, particularly if you are a working woman. Remember to keep an open mind when it comes to handling your in - laws. They may be rigid in their ways, but there is always a way to work out a compromise.

    Sharing space

    Marriage involves sharing everything - whether it is sadness or glad tidings, chores or finance, which can be a difficult task. This is why marriage necessitates an equal contribution from both side. " Sharing is absolutely essential for a happy marriage,. Besides making it easier to run the show, it also brings you closer to your partner, and cement a bond in a way that only experience can.
    Differnces of opinion

    Shaadi brings two different individuals together, as well as two sets of arguments for everything. Remember that your husband is as new to the marriage and the relationship as you, and he is facing the same issue for the first time as well.Irrespective of the nature of the relationship, any two people are bound to have differences of opinion at some point of time, It is how you handle these differences that mtters. The best antidote for deviant interest lies in adapting to the situation. "Be carteful not to retaliate for the sake of it,"

    Planning for the future

    As a single independent working woman, you may be used to your lifestyle, going on holidays or splurging on the latest pair of Jimmy Choos. But married life is a journey and you need to plan carefully to get to your destination. "Planning is the key. Make sure you and your husband are on the same page as far as long - term goal are concerned," "Whether or not you plan to have a baby or deciding on investments for the future and are thing that you should discuss in advbance, if you want to avoid unpleasant surprises in you married life,"

  9. Brahmin Shaadi
    Historically, the Brahmins in india were divided into two major groups based on geographical origin of the people. The Brahmin groups that lived to the north of the vindhyas were referred to as Dravida Brahmins. Each group was further divided into five sections according to the regions of their settlement.

    The Sagaai or the engagement ceremony symbolises commitment However, the South Indian Brahmin do not lay stress on the presence of bride and the groom in their Sagaai, rather it focuses on commitment between the parents of the groom and the bride. 'Latto' i.e., 'engagement plate' Which consist of coconut, flowers, turmeric, betel leaves and betel nuts hold more importance, in their engagement ceremony. The Maithil Brahmin bride of bihar makes her wedding affair stand apart by receiving the blessing from the Dhobi's (washerman's) wife - a compulsory tradition in the Bihari Brahmin wedding.

    In Haldi ceremony turmeric powder is mixed with milk, almond oil and sandalwood and applied to the bride and the groom. In Kashmiri Pandit this ceremony has a twist becuase cold, white yoghurt is poured on the bride as an alternative to haldi. ritual is followed by a special custom called Shankha (shell) Paula (coral) in bengali Brahmins, where seven married women embellish the bride's hand with red and white bangles, the shell is supposed to calm the bride and the coral is believed to
    be beneficial for health. Mehndi is also applied on every bride's hands during the Mehndi ceremony. However, a Bengali Brahmin bride applies alta (red dye).

    After the ceremonious arrival of the groom, the garlands are exchanged between the groom and the bride, while the priests chant mantras. Jaimala is the symbol of unifying two souls into one. But in tamil nadu, "Oonjal", a unique jaimala ceremony is performed and could be best decribed as a tug of war. In this ceremony, the women sing songs to encourage the bride and groom to exchange the garlands while the uncles persuade the soon to be couple not to Exchange the garlands.Before the ceremony of jaimala, the bride makes a majestic entry in Bengali weddings.

    Mangal Phere
    Fire is considered the most pious element in the Brahmin weddings and seven circles around that fire holds the seven promises that the nuptial couple make to each other amidst the Vedic mantras. The Brahmin wedding is deemed incomplete without the seven rounds around the sacred fire. Unlike other Brahmin weddings, in Gujarati weddings only four pheras are taken which are called the mangalpheras where the pheras represent four basic human goals of Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Miksha (religious, moral, prosperity and salvation). Likewise in Malayalee Brahmin weddings, pheras are taken only thrice.

    Post wedding ceremony vidaai
    After pheras, the bride's family and friend bid her teary vidaai (farewell). The Kashmiri pundits make their vidaai even more special. their charming ritual, "roth khabar" is performed on a saturday or tuesday after the wedding. In Roth
    khabar, the bride's parents send a roth (bread decorated with nuts) to their son - in - law's family. But the bride accompanies She stay with her parents and returns only when someone from in laws comes to fetch her back.

    Griha pravesh
    The new bride is greeted by her mother - in - law with Arti and tilak. The bride, who is regarded as the Goddess laxmi, enters the groom's house after the groom's house after kicking rice - filled pot. In Kannada Brahmin marriages, the groom changes the name of his wife in the name change ceremony where he decides a name for his wife and inscribes it on a plate containing rice with a ring. In Bihar, a very strange ritual is performs at the groom's place.

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