Saturday, October 24, 2009

Wedding Sermon IV

The Beauty of a Christian Marriage

Song of Songs 2: 10 My lover spoke and said to me, "Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me.
11 See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. 12 Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land. 13 The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance. Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me."

There often comes a time in a wedding ceremony where the wise pastor, both a counselor and a friend, gives a sobering message to remind the newlyweds of commitment and mutual responsibility in a marriage. Well, now is not that time. While giving a solemn charge of fidelity and faithfulness is indeed important, I do not want to give an impression that that is all there is to the life ahead. Christianity sometimes gives a grave image of marriage, fortified by an emphasis on duty and staying away from temptation. It is as if we are saying, “You may not like one another, but you have no choice but to stay married, because that is the command of God.” You can hear the words, “command of God... God… God” echoing away in the emptiness of the relationship. Trust and obey, for there’s no other way. Such an impression is especially true if all you know about a Christian marriage comes from the boy-girl relationship talks in church from your days of youth. Youth counselors in a desperate battle against the raging hormones of teenagers are quick with warnings and apprehensive about romance. Even when Christians talk about love in a marriage, they immediately couple it with sacrifice. Let’s just say that the vision of Jesus dying for the church may be a beautiful picture for the apostle Paul, but that’s not what all husbands are scrambling to go through. In church, we celebrate the couples that can stay together over decades of thick and thin. The longevity of a marriage vow is certainly a virtue for others to follow. But I think that is not all. Today I wish to talk about another aspect of a Christian marriage. Not the quantity of the marriage, but the quality of this life to be shared.

The passage today is taken from a bible book called the Song of Songs. The title like ‘the king of kings’ or ‘the best of the best’ implies that this song is to be considered the cream of the crop, the song that is over and above all other songs. Given such an esteemed status in Christianity, it is remarkable that the Song of Songs is not directly a worship song, but primarily a romantic song between a pair of lovers. This should be a sign to us Christians that the words of desire and admiration of a couple in love expressed in the proper context of a marriage can be respected and given a place of honor. In a Christian marriage, the final objective is not just to avoid a divorce. God gave us a partner for life so that we may enjoy this life as a new body, the body of two becoming as one. Physically, we see two persons as a scientific fact. But we know that from now on they are forever connected because of the inseparable longings for one another. As the Song of Songs, the chief expression that overshadows all other expressions of the heart, it is a proclamation to all who are listening that in a Christian marriage, your passion for one another surpasses your passion for all other competitors. This is the true beauty of a Christian marriage: a couple that is fully expressing their love for one another. This is a far cry from any Puritan misconceptions that desires must be tamed and sex is a dirty word. The Song of Songs rejects that.

Among all the love poetry in the Song of Songs, I intentionally chose this passage because I want to draw the connection to another bible passage chosen at the wedding of M and H.

Habakkuk 3:17-18 “17 Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

Both are human proclamations that are loaded with agricultural imageries. In the Habakkuk passage, it is a personal conviction that no matter how bad the scenario, when all the fields are barren, I will trust in the Lord. That kind of personal conviction is critical in carrying us through all the tough times. But I have chosen today’s passage to show us that Christian marriage has another complementary side to that personal conviction. In marriage, just as there are winter times, there are also times of spring. Today’s passage tells us of the importance to celebrate love and romance in the times of spring. When the flowers are blooming and the birds are singing, when the figs are ripe and the vines bear fruit, it is not just personal conviction, but mutual invitation. Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me.

Sa and Sh, this is the beauty of a Christian marriage that I hope you always keep with you. Here we see love expressed freely and passionately, and that is what you must do; not just today, not just on the anniversaries, but every time you see one another. You have to constantly invite one another to share your life. In a marriage you will go through many things: children, promotions, mid-life crisis, empty nest and even death. Marriage is a constant process of asking your partner to arise and come with you to the next stage, and then the next. The Song of Songs largely uses agricultural metaphors because of the context at those times, and we might not identify with its beauty. But Sa, you are the creative type. I’m sure you know how to always be creatively romantic to Sh. Singaporeans are painfully pragmatic, but I think we can all learn to be more poetic in expressing love. And Sh, we see how the beloved reciprocates her love to her lover in the Song of Songs. If Sa is stingy with his loving words, you can treat him economy class. But if he pays the full fare of cherishing you to the fullest, do not forget to bump him to serve him first class. I wish for you a loving marriage always fully communicated to one another.

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