It is a cliche to say that your wedding day is the happiest of your life, but on 14 July 2012 I felt pure joy as the chaplain spoke the words, ‘I now pronounce you man and wife’. In response, I let out a strange and slightly embarrassing noise, somewhere between a cry and a cheer. Thankfully, I’m not sure anyone registered it except me, but I remember it clearly because it was one of the very few times when I – as a fully signed up member of the repressed Brits club – let out a completely uncontrolled overflow of emotion in public. My squawk was not one of joy, or excitement, or even gratitude. It was the sound of relief.
Martin and I had spent much of our relationship until that moment living on separate continents, and from watching the friends around me, I knew all too well that life could throw obstacles in the path of even those couples you thought destined to be together forever. Job offers in different countries, university places in different cities, conflicting obligations to family, financial challenges, differences of opinion over current political topics, and the list could go on. But here I was, looking at the person I had chosen to spend the rest of my life with, knowing that there was now nothing that would separate us. Whatever was to happen from here, we would face it together. Or to put it in less saccharine terms, Martin now had no escape. ‘Those whom God has joined, let no man put asunder.’ (A phrase taken from Matthew 19:6 and Mark 10:9.)
In order to underline the definitive nature of our commitment to one another, we had made vows. It was not only ‘no man’ who could put us asunder. We also pledged that sickness, poverty, and the very worst of times would not be enough to split us apart. We were now one flesh, ‘for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health’. Such big promises.
So far, so romantic. The wedding service, however, has to make one concession. There is a situation which will divide any couple, about which we have no choice, and in the face of which we can do nothing. This is why the promises Martin and I made to each other, and that all married couples make, come with a caveat. I will love and cherish you, we say, ‘until death us do part’. Even on the very day we celebrate our coming together, we must acknowledge that there will be a day when we will be parted. In a ceremony designed to recognise the very best of human love, we still give voice to its limitations.
In today’s passage, Paul reminds us that there is in fact a love even greater, even more glorious and powerful than any we might experience here on earth. Greater than our love for our spouse, our children, our parents, our siblings, our friends. It is a love that will not yield even to death. We have even greater cause to yell out in glee than me, a bride at the altar.
For we are loved with a love that reaches into the past, soaks the present and extends into the eternal future. Nothing of this world, nor anything in all creation, can bring it to an end. No person, no hardship or distress. Even death is no threat to it, for it flows from Jesus, the one who conquered death, by giving himself up to it in order that we too might be raised with him, justified, glorified, rising as more than conquerors.
On his wedding day, the groom ‘leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh’ (Genesis 2:24). So we, in joining ourselves to Jesus, leave behind our old way of life and become members of a new family. We are not promised that we will never again face hardship, but rather than when we do so, we will do it with Christ beside us, within us, fighting for us. No one can stand against us. And we can be confident that he is ultimately working all things for good, even when we cannot see it.
This is why, after we had made our vows to one another, Martin and I chose to have our wedding guests sing In Christ Alone with us, a song that reminds us of the hope we have in Christ. He is the one who stills our fears and offers solidity in the midst of our strivings. The one who took on flesh, endured man’s scorn and died on the cross in order that we might live. Our Saviour, who burst victorious from the grave and overcame sin’s curse.
Every Christian can echo the sentiment that caused me to feel so overcome as I stood at the altar in my white dress, with a shiny new ring on my finger: I am his and he is mine! And we can all celebrate together, voices rich with love and relief: ‘No power of hell, no scheme of man, / Can ever pluck me from his hand.’
Father God, Thank you that through Jesus’ death the curtain between us was torn in two and we are no longer separated from you. Thank you nothing we do, and nothing that can be done to us, is enough to change that. Help us to live in your love, to proclaim your victory and to build our lives on the certainty of our future with you,