Text: Song of Solomon 2:10-13; 8:6-7
In the name of the +Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
James and Sarah, in a few moments, you will stand before us as something new: husband and wife, no longer autonomous individuals, but as a new entity, a new creation in the sight of God.
It stretches far beyond that simple frisson of excitement and newness that comes with referring to the other as “my husband” or “my wife”, of signing cheques with a new surname or going through that Herculean task of getting your name changed on your driving licence: there is a definite change in people who have moved from a simple association into the life-long commitment that is Holy Matrimony.
Marriage is one of the Sacraments of the Church; sitting alongside Baptism, Holy Communion and the Forgiveness of Sins Confessed. You may wonder why this is so: the others are so obviously something to do with the Church and with God and yet Marriage is just something between two people isn’t it?
It is precisely because Marriage is between two people that God is involved – for whenever the love of one for another is displayed, so the love of God for his Creation is also shown.
That James and Sarah have chosen to exchange these most important vows here in their parish church, before God and before you all as a Congregation shows that God’s love for his creation can suffuse and build on their love for one another.
Our reading was taken from the Old Testament, from the Song of Solomon, also known as the Song of Songs. This is not some dry and dusty passage of ancient history, but a song of passion, of the all-consuming love: the love of a man for a woman, the love of a Heavenly Father for his creation. The writer speaks of a love as strong as death, a passion as fierce as the grave. Strong words which capture the vividness of the relationship that brings James and Sarah together.
Their bond: a bond which can be as strong as death, as fierce as the grave joins them together, a firm foundation of togetherness upon which a successful marriage is based.
For society is based upon the building blocks that you have formed this afternoon: society is based upon marriage. A society that loses sight of this, loses sight of its own values. A successful society as well as a successful marriage is based upon such values of passion, of integrity, honesty, loyalty and mercy.
There are many outside this building this afternoon who may see Marriage as a disposable commodity, perhaps like a new piece of computer equipment, a hi-fi or some other expensive and impressive gadget, to which many are attracted.
When such a gadget is shiny and new, a bit like those shiny new wedding rings, the specialness of it can be sensed; it is visible to all.
However, after a while, and after a bit of living, the shininess may have rubbed off a little; neither of you may feel like the latest model, with the latest features. There is tremendous temptation to discard that formerly sexy new gadget, to hide it away in the attic, give it away or to leave it out for the dustman, just another consumer item which has had its day.
But a marriage is something quite different: not a disposable consumer item at all, but rather a hand-crafted, exquisite object. It is a tool for life. It is a long-term investment, of both time and money, and like all handcrafted and exquisite objects, it requires maintenance to keep it in perfect running order.
It requires communication, understanding and above all, forgiveness; but with careful maintenance it will serve you both very well. The shape of marriage changes over the years, but this because you will grow together, grow as a partnership, grow as a future family.
James, Sarah, this Marriage is the responsibility of both of you. It might seem strange to stress that when today you are gathered together, both looking radiant, happy and carrying the love and best wishes of all who are gathered here today with you; but there will come days when you don’t look your best, you don’t feel so loved, and don’t feel so loving. The Passion will not necessarily diminish over time, but it will change.
The vows you you will make, before this congregation and before God call you both, mutually and together to celebrate with joy all the wonderful times I know you will have together, and to support each other through those other times.
This is when the passion, love, honesty, sincerity and mutual respect of a marriage is most required, at those other times – this is when you should most realise that you are no longer just individuals, but you are something much more than the sum of your parts – you are that most important of units: you are a marriage.