E-pistle April 29

Betwixt Christ and His Church

The wedding of the century, though the century is still young, is now over. I never received my invitation, so I am making do with news reports and videos for my information. Clearly, though, William and Kate are now married. The clean-up crews are putting Westminster Abbey back in shape and who knows what the women are going to do with all those hats.

“Storybook” may have been the most used and overused adjective to describe it all, and let’s face it, it was pretty storybook. Kate’s gorgeous gown and the groom and best man in their dress uniforms. The music, the setting, the pomp and circumstance. Storybook, for sure.

There were minor concessions to modern sensibilities – Kate famously did not promise to “serve and obey” her new husband – but all in all, it honored tradition. It was a storybook wedding and we might pray that the vows taken will not be mocked.

But while some attention has been given to the slight changes in the service, few have noted the radical words that remain, words that should have caused the gathered celebrities and dignitaries to be taken aback; the women in their hats might have fainted and the gallant men in their morning suits should have panicked. Apparently no one was paying attention.

Did you hear what the Bishop of London said as the ceremony began?

Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee; and is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men.

My guess is that to most of those concerned that “serve and obey” be excised from Kate’s vows (actually, they simply picked an alternative reading already in the Book of Common Prayer), these opening words were just gobbledygook that are said at storybook weddings. Absolutely meaningless, just what you say.

I am glad that no one excised these words or picked some alternative reading.

Did you hear what the whole world heard today? In the midst of our current round of marriage wars we heard the Bishop of London tell us that marriage is:

  • Between a man and a woman
  • An honorable estate instituted by God
  • A sign to us of the mystical union betwixt Christ and his Church
  • To be held in honor by all

It is not only those gentlemen in their morning coats and the ladies in their hats who should be shocked by the words. So should we. Our marriages are to be a reflection of the union betwixt Christ and his Church.

Really, I have no problem with the alternative vows used by William and Kate.  “Serve and obey” carry a lot or harmful history with them and perhaps are best not used.  But wives vowing to serve and obey just might work if husbands were serious about their promise to “love her, comfort her, honour and keep her, in sickness and in health, and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live.” Paul the apostle put it this way, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” (Ephesians 5:21)

Ours may not have been the storybook weddings of the century, but our marriages can help tell the story of God’s unimaginable love for whole world.