Thursday, October 18, 2012

a renewal of vows


May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Weddings are always happy occasions … so I suppose this occasion must be doubly happy as it is in a way the second time round for the happy couple … not a second marriage I hasten to add, but a second public declaration of the love and commitment that they have for each other!

In fact, I must admit to being slightly puzzled about what it was that we would be doing here today when the bride first called me from the States. Because frankly there was nothing in the BCP to cover this. It wasn't a wedding, as they were already married; it wasn't the blessing of a civil marriage as they had already been married in Church … after a bit of head-scratching we decided the term 'renewal of vows' best described what was happening, even if it did seem a little soon to renew vows when they had only been married a few months … a cynic might wonder if they weren't sure that the vows had taken the first time round!

But truthfully, I think it is lovely that 
the happy couple wanted to do something publicly in Ireland as well as in the US. The service sheet speaks of their making their commitment before God and congregation … God is the same today, always, and at their first ceremony … but today the congregation is different … the first congregation was there to witness on behalf of Church and community in the United States … and the congregation gathered here today is here to witness on behalf of the Irish Church and community of the commitment that they have made before God to each other …

So what is that commitment? When we gathered for the wedding rehearsal on Tuesday evening, we had a short prayer service … I thought it was a good way of everybody getting to know each other … and certainly a good way for me to get to know them better … praying together is a powerful way of communicating with each other … and of course by springing a service on them that they weren't expecting and having them engage with it without a murmur I found out just how biddable they all were & how difficult they would or wouldn't be today!

But for the service I had to chose a reading … & the one I chose was from Genesis: let me read it to you … I know you have all heard it before, but it never hurts to hear the word of God read aloud:

Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’ So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.’Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.

There are some important concepts in there: it is not good for people to be alone; we need helpers and partners in life; we must rely on God to help us find that companion, rather than relying on random chance or thinking it is something for our own wills and choices; and once the two are joined together, they are one flesh, joined together, not by human action, but by God.

That's a pretty clear outline of what Christian marriage is: as it is outlined in the Bible & as it has been authoritatively taught by the Church from the earliest days of her history … a powerful counter cultural witness to a society that increasingly sees marriage as just one among many of a range of life-style choices … and certainly not part of God's plan for humanity …

and lest anyone think I am singling out those who are not following the Church's teaching on marriage as being particularly egregious sinners, I am not. We are all sinners … there is not a saint in heaven who wasn't a sinner on earth … if the doors of the Church were only open to saints there would be no one in here today or any day. The Church teaches what it teaches … and then says: now welcome sinners one and all!

But still … it is wonderful that 
the happy couple have chosen to publicly witness to the importance of their marriage not just once but twice … & I wonder if we all might not learn from their example? It is common practice in the Church to have regular & public renewal of baptismal vows … but the renewal of marriage vows is very much an optional thing … & even then only done after many years … essentially when there is no doubt that they have 'taken'! But perhaps we should change that … perhaps we should all regularly renew those vows we made on our wedding day … privately if nor publicly … looking the person you committed to spend the rest of your life with in the eye & reminding yourself and them … and perhaps the world … of the vows you made on the day when you were joined together with them by God in Holy Matrimony.

In a couple of minutes we will all be witnesses as 
the happy couple renew their vows of Holy Matrimony … so let us pray that these vows will not only be kept over many long years of marriage, but that they will be a source of strength to them in all the woes they will face, along with blessings of this life, even as we give thanks to their witness here today before us and God: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

(sermon notes for 18 Oct 2012; renewal of marriage vows) 

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