Marriage and the Art of our Mortality

There are two kinds of pastors: those who love presiding at weddings and those who do not.

I fall squarely into the latter category (although if I performed your wedding or will be in the near future I want you to know it was, or will be, the best day of my life).

Those of us pastors who feel as though presiding at weddings is akin to having the marrow slowly sucked from our bones are relieved Valentine’s Day is behind us with all its sentimental hoopla and are happy to be planted in the season of Lent with all its emphasis on penitential sorrow and repentance and the reminder of our own mortality. We know that these Lenten realities are far closer to the long-haul of marriage than roses and heart-shaped jewelry. Yet it is in this liturgical Lenten reality we get the phone calls and emails from mightily hopeful and earnest folk asking us if we would be willing ‘to do their wedding’ this summer.

Despite the hours I put into pre-marital counseling and wedding preparation, the weekends I have missed important family events because I’ve spent precious time on my hands and knees looking for a tube of lipstick under the couch that must be recovered because that particular color of lipstick matches the roses on the wedding cake, comforting weepy fourteen-year old bridesmaids who hate their hair because it looks ‘weird’, or dug around in desk drawers for ibuprofen for hung-over groomsman in one-size-too-small shoes, I’ve rarely felt that my time as a pastor is well spent.

I am never more aware that the cultural notions of marriage — born along by rom-com films and the wedding industry — is radically removed from what Christian marriage means, which is a daily dying to self in the best possible way, simply and if only because it is for the other. Marriage is far more Lenten in its sensibilities than wide-eyed romantics might want to believe.

Primed with my good intentions, best efforts and state-of-the-art diagnostic tools it is unlikely that I can fully prepare a couple for the reality of what lies before them. I’m not even convinced that we collectively as clergy can prepare people for the realities of marriage, parenthood, the inability to become parents, the illnesses and aging not to mention the mood swings and dirty underwear, all the things that come with living the rest of your life with another. I have already reconciled myself to the reality that after the wedding the couple may not ever walk through the church doors again or that a large percentage of the weddings I perform will end in divorce. But.

Just as I believe that beneath the ‘remember you are dust and to dust you shall return’ cadence of Lent is the promise of resurrection, I can also still retain some hope about the time I spend with these couples. Somehow, I still believe that God is working behind the scenes even when I am blinded to the Spirit’s work by big hair and wedding reception small talk. My job, my calling is not to decide or determine how Christ’s word will land, but simply preach it into our mortal and limited lives. Lives, yes, that are bound by the realities of failure, sin and dust but also held in promise.

The promises we make to one another will always fail us, especially those we claim to love most dearly. Marriage itself is framed by death for one partner will always die before the other even in the most longing and loving of unions. Yet, God’s promises for each of us, for all of us, will carry us. We leave this world, exhausted, yet eager to make amends, readied for our loved one’s embrace.