In honor of it being Valentine’s Day, here’s part of a wedding sermon that one of my seminary professors shared in class today…
Marriage by Roland D. Martinson
The heart of marriage is a promise. On the face of it, it’s a crazy promise; two people who have only a partial understanding of one another stand up and make this bizarre statement that they’ve going to cherish and care for one another for a lifetime. They say, “I take this one and this one takes me as long as we both shall live,” not “as long as we both shall love.” To many persons this seems like a mad and risky thing to do. Yet I would suggest that the madness is the romance. Without risk there is no beauty or strength or goodness.
It’s not a very courageous thing for two people who have found themselves mutually delectable to say, “I will shack up with this one, and this one with me, as long as the delectability continues.” It has no gallantry. It’s just a mutual optimism. So that if people want to create all kinds of lovely music about what is simply one of the higher forms of self-satisfaction, I find nothing admirable about this at all. I find it completely understandable. I find it even momentarily delightful. But I don’t think it has much to do with marriage. Certainly nothing to do with a promise. I’m really only challenged toward fulfillment, or at least partial fulfillment, when I understand marriage as a mutual acceptance of crazy challenge to fulfill the seemingly impossible. Then there is something that is really worth the human effort.
Bach produced greatness within the strict musical limits of his time, and the severity of the limits engendered the greatness of the accomplishment. Just as Bach accepted limitations and discipline in musical composition, so marriage means limits. Without limitation there is not expansion. Without the risk of a promise there is really no joy. There is only a kind of serial, episodic history of partial joys with interchangeable parts.
The problem with the temporary, ad hoc relationships which many people enter into today is that when there is a way out, the couple deprive themselves of the deepening effect of going all the way in. When there’s an exit, they can split. This is not to say that all marriage should survive. Sometimes the damage done in staying together is so great that the only answer is dissolution; we all know marriage like that.
It does not fit today’s popular mood, but we all need fidelity: the intention to do what we say, to accept discipline in order to solidify the good. Fidelity means more than not sleeping around the neighborhood. It means that we have made a promise, a commitment, and that we have accepted the limitations that are a part of that promise. There are great satisfactions in saying, ” I have done what I undertook to do.”
When the old guys emphasized “for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health,” they weren’t being sentimental; they meant it. A commitment like that takes guts.