I spent this past weekend in the sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles celebrating a wedding. It was a beautiful ceremony set in the hills of Malibu overlooking the Pacific Ocean, followed by an extravagant reception at a picturesque venue right on the beaches of Santa Monica. From the tuxedo rental to the bachelor party to the rehearsal dinner to the end-of-reception clean up, I was surrounded by friends and family of the bride and groom, these incredible people who had traveled from all over the world in order to be present to witness this extraordinary event.
Extraordinary? A wedding? In our culture where marriage is increasingly delayed or avoided, the divorce rates are climbing alongside the ratings of petty entertainment shows like "The Bachelor," and the hookup culture of our youth appears to be normative, the concept of marital fidelity is, at once, antiquated and highly exalted. It's a relational covenant which has existed throughout human history, something so incredibly common and necessary for human flourishing that it can almost feel unexceptional. Marriages begin every single day with the celebration of a wedding, an event so ubiquitous that there is an entire industry devoted to these gatherings--there was another wedding in the same chapel mere hours before I stood in a tuxedo off to the side and witnessed the sharing of vows, the mutual admiration and love, the pronouncement and kiss of two beloved friends. Two different couples, two wholly different stories, sharing the same date and location for the beginning of a radically new chapter in their lives.
I suppose I'm struck by how marriage, this incredibly ordinary everyday occurrence, is also a profound and continually life-transforming relationship. Marriage is both ordinary and extraordinary, both commonplace and exceptional. Even in the culture I described above, where romantic love and commitment are often muddled or misunderstood, marriage is still our ideal to strive for. I think of the whole SCOTUS decision and gay marriage debate, how both conservatives and liberals actually agree on more than they might realize. Both sides are placing marriage in a venerated position--the conservatives are trying to protect the sanctity of this beautiful covenant, and the liberals are trying to expand this beautiful covenant to everyone. Both agree: this marriage thing is worth fighting for.
And it is worth the fight. It's worth all the time and energy and effort two people must exert over a lifetime of experiences, failures, triumphs, joys, pains. I was having a conversation with a friend last year at his wedding about how many Christian marriage books seem to paint the relationship as this necessary slog, filled with conflicts and frustrations and difficulties, but all in order to make both spouses more holy before God. The way these books made it, marriage sounded more like a trip to the dentist--a painful-yet-necessary thing for one's health, and probably expensive or complicated. He told me, "Someone needs to write a book about the joys of marriage, how awesome it truly is." Because it is awesome. Yes, it does require patience and wisdom and loads of grace. But it is deeply life-giving, restorative, and loads of fun. My marriage is characterized by a deep authenticity I have never experienced with anyone else, as well as a committed friendship and mutual understanding. I get to hang out with my best friend every day! (Also, sex. That's pretty great too.) Apart from becoming a disciple of Jesus, becoming a husband and father is the best decision I've ever made, and by God's grace I continue to embrace those identities on a daily basis.
So it's fascinating to me that the chosen image of the kingdom of God is a wedding banquet. In many of his parables, Jesus uses the example of a wedding to describe the nature and character of the hope for creation, the renewal of the world by God's grace, the place he would go to prepare a place for us. In the epistle to the Ephesians, Paul draws strong parallels between Christ's relationship to the church and a husband's love for his bride. In the final chapters of Scripture, the future city of God is described as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband, approaching with dignity and wonder, inspiring awe and reverence and (I imagine) tears of joy. The thing is, the wedding is just the first step into the marriage, the celebratory beginning of an ongoing forever-and-amen relational journey. The wedding feast in the kingdom of God is just the opening number in an eternity of unconditional love and marital bliss with the Savior.
Marriage is a wonder, a gift, a mystery, a discipline, a joy. I still get teary-eyed at weddings. Can't help it. It's a beauty to behold. To quote Casablanca, "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship." Even better, the apostle Paul, "Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."
Photo Credit: Dave Smith (Creative Commons)