What Makes a Marriage?

Alex and Katie, family of the bride and groom, friends, wedding party, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

What a grand joy to celebrate with you today. Today you enter into the one estate given to man and woman that remains from before the fall into sin. This picture that is given that we share today and in life that is Christ and the church (Eph 5), this picture that is redeemed in Christ. For it is the love of Christ that overflows in you and brings you here today.

After the service today, when everyone is gone, I will go back to my office, and I will sign this piece of paper called a marriage license. It was given to you by the state of Wisconsin, and I will send it back to the state. Everyone who has been married in Wisconsin has one of these.  Some folks have it in a nice frame, up on the wall somewhere in their house. Some might have it in a lock box with other important documents to keep it safe. Maybe some are like the lawyer who had his marriage license out and was reading it one night, when his wife asked him what he was doing. He said, “Looking for a loophole.”

Regardless of what you do with this piece of paper, I want to tell you a secret; you know, just between the three of us …  It’s just a piece of paper. Really. That’s all. This piece of paper is not a marriage. Even today, this is not a marriage. This, today, is a wedding. The marriage is just beginning. It begins immediately after the ceremony, it continues long after the celebration is over tonight, after everyone has returned home tomorrow, and goes for days, months, and with the Lord’s blessings even years, for the rest of your life.

Beginning today these words of Christ will continue to show more meaning, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Because here is the truth: Chances are that you will never be asked to give up your life for your spouse. But, you will have to give up yourself for your spouse. Marriage is not a piece of paper, it is a gift of life.

Alex, today you give yourself to Katie. Katie, today you give yourself to Alex. Marriage is a gift, a gift of our Lord. A gift given to you today and to be treasured for the rest of your life. Everyday, from this day forward you will give yourself to each other.

Marriage is grounded in the creation, our being male and female made in the image of God. Marriage is about sex and food and drink and house and home and bed and table and children and community. It embraces the fullness of who we are as human beings – the good, the bad, the ugly. Marriage is about sin and grace and forgiveness and faithfulness.

You’re going to wake up one morning six or seven years from now, and open a sleepy eye and look at that other person on the pillow next to you, and say to yourself in a moment of panic, “What have I gotten myself into?” And you won’t want to be there, and your mind will wander to greener romantic pastures. And then you’ll see the rings you exchanged, rings that won’t come off. And you’ll remember the promises you made, promises that don’t wear out. And you’ll be resolved to stick with it. Not because you feel like it but because that’s what married people do. They stick with it and with each other, the way Christ sticks with His Bride the Church.

That’s what it means to be married. To sit down at your table and pour yourselves a glass of wine and toast the most miserable of days and then go to bed to sleep not burning with honeymoon passion but basking in the glowing embers of commitment and fidelity and faithfulness. And you know what happens? You discover a depth of love that can be experienced no other way. The love that only Christ gives to you. Keep Christ is in the center and focus of everything in your marriage.

He’s the Word who made you, who called you into existence, who holds you in His death and life, who reconciled you to God together with the whole world on a good Friday, as He laid down His life for you. It’s His robe of righteousness that you wear, His blessedness that is yours. You live under the sign of His Baptism. And so worship Him at your table and at His table. Hear His Word together and pray together at your table. Deal with each other and receive each other through Him, forgive each other as He forgives you. He’s the center of your marriage, not you.

Happily ever after. That’s fairy tale language – even for marriages here on this earth – even for your marriage – for you will both say – until death parts us according to the will of God. That which Jesus has won for you – for us is no fairy tale. You are now joining in marriage as husband and wife but together and with all the saints of God we will always be the Bride of Christ.

May your lives together be rooted in the goodness of God’s creation and the freedom of His redemption. As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.

In the name of the Father of + the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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