St. Mark 10.vv.2-16
~ Some Pharisees came, and to test Jesus they asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?". He answered them, "What did Moses command you?". They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her". But Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, "God made them male and female". For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together let no one separate".
Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another she commits adultery".
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. ~
In an age when the family and the marriage bond are in such danger of being broken by the forces of Antichrist and the secular world, it is good to look back at the roots of our Christian faith so that we may be strengthened to press on in loyalty and love.
Among the many joys of being an ordained minister in the Church is that from time to time one has the privilege and joy of conducting marriages in Church.
The marriage service begins with a lengthy introduction setting out the purpose and nature of marriage and declaring God's purposes for family life.
In an early paragraph we read "In marriage husband and wife belong to one another". I have witnessed elderly couples saying to one another, "You belong to me and I belong to you". What a wonderful affirmation of love and loyalty! This is a fulfilment of Christ's teaching taken from the Old Testament that a man shall leave his father and mother ... cleave to his wife ... so they shall become one flesh. "What God has joined - let no man put asunder". The symbolic joining of hands, the giving of promises and of (a) ring(s) seal the convenant made before God.
A little later in the introduction we read, "husband and wife begin a new life together". The tragedy all too often is that marriage is for some people only a continuation of what has gone before. There is no zest for new ways of thinking and being in their relationship together or in the community. All too many couples think that marriage is an end not a beginning and fail to realise that a marriage is something to be worked at throughout one's earthly life.
In Proverbs 31.vv.10-end from the Old Testament, we have a lovely passage describing the good wife, her love, loyalty, prudence, care, concern and love for her husband and family.
The New Testament reading (Ephesians 5vv.25-26) bids husbands "love" their wives (not eros or philia, but "agape" is the word the writer uses), that love which is self-renunciating, sacrificial, actively seeking the good of others (did not Jesus command His followers to love (agape) one another?). This love is an understanding, forgiving love which gives and accepts pardon. The writer bids parents be forbearing with their children not driving them to resentment, but disciplining them in love.
In the Gospel reading after stressing the permanence of the marriage bond, Jesus (Mark 10.vv.2-16) speaks of the value of children in the family and in God's sight.
There is a strange Old Testament proverb in Ecclesiastes (the book so seldom read) that has a message for the newly-weds in a Church marriage: "A threefold cord is not easily broken". One cord may be snapped if one has strong fingers, but intertwined with a second is very strong. If a third cord is woven into these, scarcely can it be broken. In marriage, cord one is Bill's love for Jane, cord two is Jane's love for Bill, but cord three is the love that God has for Bill and Jane (the one flesh).
In marriages there will always be disagreements, open or tacit. There may be frustration, disappointment, anger and sorrow. Then is the time to realise that the God who shares our joys also shares our sorrows, that he is there to show compassion and forgiveness, to bring reconciliation, to restore harmony and joy to the marriage relationship. Thanks be to God.
"Bind us together, Lord, bind us together, in bonds that cannot be broken" we sing.