Genesis 1:26-28 St. Matthew 5:1-10
Today Esther and Florian are preparing to make Christian vows, of lifetime commitment to love and cherish one another and to honour and to obey, despite the earthly circumstances that may change – our bodily health, our earthly wealth, even changes that may come about in our character for better or for worse.
Many in the modern world wonder at making such high vows – how can one commit to another person for life, when you hardly know each other, regardless of the length of your friendship and betrothal beforehand. You are young and you will change…maybe you will get bored with one another?
But the answer to these fears are found in our readings today, chosen by Esther and Florian from a list of suggestions from the Anglican Church.
In the Creation account from Genesis 1, we are promised that men and women are made in the image, and after the likeness, of God.
That is a high calling – to be an image, an icon of the living God here on earth – and it has implications for marriage, which God also instituted right from the beginning.
We know of course the Biblical history, that from the outset, there was a falling away from God and when we don’t look to Him, we become unlike Him – His image and likeness in us is obscured...but it is not lost.
Certain people through history have showed us something of what that image is supposed to be. But Jesus Christ is the perfect image – St Paul says, He is the image of the invisible God [Col 1:15], He is…the exact imprint of his nature. [Heb 1:3]
The Beatitudes that Jesus tells his disciples, our second reading, describe what a human being is like, when he or she recovers the image and likeness of God, the beatitudes describe the character of Jesus himself.
- Jesus is poor in spirit – that is, humble in heart, not doing his own will but the will of His Father. [St John 6:38]
- He mourned: weeping at the grave of Lazarus, he wept when he beheld the holy city because they did not know what makes for peace, he wept in the garden of Gethsemane at the tragedy of human sin which he would bear.
- He was meek: not opening his mouth before his persecutors. [Isa 53:7; ]
- He hungered and thirsted for righteousness, pouring out his life that righteousness would flow like a mighty stream [Amos 5:34; Isa 45:8].
- He was merciful towards those who nailed him to the cross – Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. [St Luke 23:34]
- He was the only man with perfect purity of heart, and so could see and manifest forth His Father – if you have seen me, you have seen the Father. [St John 14:9]
- He is the peacemaker between God and man by His offering on the Cross. [e.g. Rom 5:1; Col 1:20]
- He was persecuted for righteousness’ sake. And the kingdom of heaven is His, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him. [St Matt 28:15]
This image and likeness of God, can be restored in us, by Jesus Christ, through faith and our baptism into Him, and through making use of all the means of grace he offers to us. Both Esther and Florian are baptised into Jesus Christ and are looking to Him. Whenever they look on Him, they become more like Him.
Esther and Florian, you will discover, as you spend more time together, in the other, both the image and likeness of God... and the brokenness of that image.
In your day to day life together you will have the possibility to help each other in God’s work of restoring that image and likeness. Your strategy will be twofold:
- to affirm and encourage, in the other, every act in accordance with the image and likeness of God and so to strengthen it; and
- to call to account and to forbear and forgive and be patient with, every word and act, in the other, that reveals what is still broken and incomplete. [Hebrews 3:13]
You are to be poor in spirit – that is, to be humble before one another, realizing that you actually don’t know each other very well, you don’t even know yourselves very well. Listen to one another carefully, there is a deep well of beauty to be discovered. Never think you have come to know the other – the human soul is unfathomable.
You are to mourn: to pay attention to the suffering of your spouse, and seek to be a comfort in the midst of your spouse’s sorrows.
Be meek with one another, gentle, because in your marriage you will be walking on holy ground – as you discover and reveal your hearts in deeper trust. You will come to know more and more each other’s strengths but also weaknesses. Take great care never to take advantage of that.
Hunger and thirst for righteousness – desire your sanctification and the sanctification of your spouse! Encourage each other in whatever is needed for your spiritual growth – help each other to follow the spiritual disciplines - attending worship, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and think about times for private retreats. When both of you, or either of you, gets closer to God, your relationship will benefit greatly.
Be merciful! It is the only way to stay together – there will be times you will annoy each other tremendously, because you are so close to each other – mercy is needed to sustain this closest of human relationships.
Seek to be pure in heart – it is one of the purposes of marriage: "for the hallowing [the making holy] of the union between a man and a woman." [Book of Common Prayer Canada 1962] From Proverbs, the advice of a father to his son is: “Rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely hind, a graceful doe. Let her affection fill you at all times with delight, be infatuated always with her love.” [5:10] Of course, purity of heart is much broader than this – it involves the purification of all the passions. Let nothing distract you from seeing God.
Be peacemakers, one of you will need to take the initiative when you’ve become distant from one another, readily admit your failures, readily offer forgiveness.
Jesus says you are blessed if you are persecuted for righteousness sake. Given that you both look to Jesus Christ, we hope it will never be the case in your marriage. If your spouse is hurting you for doing what is right, get help from outside.
As you both seek these ways of being, you will discover a blessedness in your married life, not exactly happiness, but the entering more fully into the life and love of God and so experiencing real meaning, purposefulness, and true and lasting joy in the midst of the suffering that also comes upon us in this world.
We are to be images and likenesses of God, living icons of God in the world.
St Paul gives a further nuance to your being an icon of God in the relationship of marriage. He says that the husband is to be an icon of Christ and the wife an icon of the Church. [Ephesians 5]
This is why Florian will vow to love, to cherish and to honour Esther, and Esther will vow to love, to cherish and to obey Florian.
There is a complementarity to the ancient vows, based on Scripture, recognizing the complementary roles of male and female. Something the modern world struggles with. It is not easy for our culture to understand obedience without imagining tyranny. But we, as members of the Church, gladly submit to Christ, for we knows his rule is godly. And Christ loves the Church and lays down his life for her. One might ask which is the greater submission? The twofold strategy suggested above is related to fulfilling these calls to honour and to obey: Florian is not to be a tyrant; Esther is not to submit to what is ungodly [e.g. Acts 5:27-32 places limits on the command to obey those in authority, which stems from the 5th Commandment].
As you practice your marriage, in the light of Christ, and seeking His blessing now and always, together you will become a blessing to the world, an icon. Together you will teach without words, about Jesus Christ and his Church.
One final thing. Another principle purpose of marriage is “the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name”. [Book of Common Prayer] It is from the reading in Genesis we heard, God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over…every living thing that moves on the earth.” [Genesis 1:28]
There is another way we discover that we can become like Christ in the gift of a child – something Daniëlle and I are discovering as we nurture our daughter. There is a kind of kenosis that is required, the Greek word in Scripture meaning "self-emptying." St Paul says, Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God as something to be grasped but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death… [Philippians 2:5-8] This kind of self-emptying is needed by parents, in order for them not to be annoyed that their child is “getting in the way” of their “true work”. No, the Son of God, was angry that his disciples were trying to keep the children away from him, thinking his work and teaching was too important to be interrupted by children. He took them in his arms and blessed them. And in another situation, took a little child, and put him in their midst and said, to such is the kingdom of God. [e.g. St Luke 18:15-18; St Mark 9:33-37] Jesus inverts our ideas of what is greatness, of what is most important.
We will pray soon for this great gift of children for you. And if it is not to be in your marriage, may Jesus teach you this self-emptying, a part of the image and likeness of God, in other ways in your life together and in the wider world.
May the restoring of the full image and likeness of God and joy be the consequence of your marriage!
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Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. Psalm 127:1,2