Searching for Sunday: Marriage
In the final section of Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans tackles the sacrament of marriage. She makes an important point which should preface everything else. When we talk about this sacrament, we aren’t strictly talking only about legal marriage. In broader terms, it is the sacrament of living life together with others in a way that shows the Kingdom of God to each other and those around you. Official marriage covenants may be the most common way we see this kind of sacrificial love manifested, but single people aren’t excluded from this sacrament.
When we got married, we picked a text from Romans 12:
9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
We handed it off to John Young, my research paper supervisor and professor at Queen’s School of Religion, with some general ideas of the direction we wanted it to go. Our general idea was pretty much just about how we would treat each other, how “love” is not about a good feeling but is about making the daily choices to value the other, and so on. That would have been a pretty good sermon.
I’m happy to say he took that and went further with it. I wish we had gotten our wedding video (let’s not talk about what happened there) for many sentimental reasons, of course, but hearing that sermon again would be high on the list. He didn’t restrict the sacrament to just us. A lot of his focus was on how we were entering this marriage to each other but this text – and the Christian life in general – is even more how the two of us spread this kind of sacrificial love beyond us. We face each other with this love – and yes, it is definitely the closest thing to the Kingdom I have experienced – but we also stand side-by-side as we extend God’s love to everyone.
The majority of this section of Searching for Sunday, however, is about the church as a bride, an analogy that appears often in Scripture. The chapter I particularly loved, as a man, was when she posed the question of what it would look like if we let women make the analogies for the Church, in part in response to the famous “the Church is a whore but she is my mother” line attributed to Augustine. Men tend to stick to a few ways of describing women: virgin, whore, mother. Among Rachel’s other ideas that women may be able to remind the Church of:
Perhaps she would speak of the way a regular body moves through the world—always changing, never perfect—capable of nurturing life, not simply through the womb, but through hands, feet, eyes, voice, and brain. Every part is sacred. Every part has a function.
I particularly like that bit about “always changing, never perfect.” Men aren’t perfect either, of course, but we don’t have the same cultural reminders of that fact regularly in front of us. If somebody asked me to describe myself, it would take me a long time to get to “not perfect” or anything like that. I imagine a lot of women have internalized that much more than I have. There are lots of self esteem issues we could talk about specifically around women, but in this case, maybe there’s a healthy reminder needed.
I am not perfect. And yet, God loves me anyway. Perfection isn’t the point. Being loved and loving others is:
What each of us longs for the most is to be both fully known and fully loved. Miraculously, God feels the same way about us. God, too, wants to be fully known and fully loved. God wants this so much that he has promised to knock down every obstacle in the way, enduring even his own death, to be with us, to consummate this love. And so, in those relationships and in those moments when we experience the joy, ecstasy, and relief of being both totally vulnerable and absolutely cherished, we get just a taste, a mere glimpse, of what God has always felt for us, and what one day we will feel for God.