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by Ted Schroder
March 5, 2006

When I officiate at a wedding I begin with these solemn words: "Dearly beloved: We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of this man and this woman in Holy Matrimony. The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation, and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. It signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church, and Holy Scripture commends it to be honored among all people.

"The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God's will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord."

It is for the protection of marriage and children, that the seventh commandment is given: "You shall not commit adultery." As the Letter to the Hebrews tells us: "Honor marriage, and guard the sacredness of sexual intimacy between wife and husband. God draws a firm line against casual and illicit sex." (13:4 The Message)

The relationship between God and his people is described in the Bible in terms of marriage. Faithfulness and steadfast love are required for it to succeed. The Song of Songs is not only a romantic love poem between a man and a woman; it is also included in the Bible as an analogy of the love between God and Israel. Christians have interpreted it as teaching the love between Christ and his Church. When God's people desire other gods it is described as adultery. Their faithlessness to God is condemned and punished.

The book of the prophet Hosea portrays Israel as an adulterous wife. "When the LORD began to speak through Hosea, the LORD said to him, 'Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the LORD." (Hosea 1:2) Hosea's continuing love for his wife is meant to demonstrate God's continuing love for the Israelites despite them turning to the gods of the local fertility cults.

Jesus teaches that he is the bridegroom who has come for the bride. He likens his second coming in glory as a marriage feast. St. John describes the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, as a "bride beautifully dressed for her husband." (Revelation 21:2) We are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9)

In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul uses the analogy of the relationship between Christ and the church to that between a wife and a husband. Both are to submit, i.e. honor and respect, each other, out of their reverence to Christ. Their union in "heart, body, and mind, intended by God for their mutual joy," is portrayed in lyrical terms:

"Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church - a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ's love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They're really doing themselves a favor - since they're already 'one' in marriage." (Ephesians 5:25-28. The Message)

"When a man falls in love, he sees the beloved in an idealized vision which to the rest of the world seems unjustified by the facts of the woman's character and appearance. The lover feels towards his beloved, thus idealized, a rapture of devotion, which seems to blend humility with exultation, self-giving with grateful receiving, in a joyful exchange of laughter and courtesy. What is the real significance of this vision and the mutual relationship which can emerge from it. ...The relationship between lover and beloved which emerges is (at its best) the relationship of joyful giving and receiving which ought to join all men together. Already such relationships exist among the perfected in Heaven. Romantic love presents to the lover a vision of the beloved in glory - the glory which, in the life of Heaven, will clothe all living things." (Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind, p.174)

That is what a marriage is meant to be, but many, because of our sins, fall far short of that ideal. Such a marriage, 'made in heaven' has no room for unfaithfulness, selfishness, or dissatisfaction. Where there is mutual joy, the temptation to adultery has no power. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, saw that the problem of adultery lay in opportunities for indulging the craving for illicit pleasure. "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." His solution to that problem is to avoid situations and relationships in which opportunities for those temptations are available. "If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell." (Matthew 5:27-30)

Today, more than ever, there is opportunity for such illicit craving to be indulged through pornography on the internet, and explicit sex on television and in the movies. It takes a marriage made in heaven, and the self discipline to avoid viewing trash, to protect oneself from such titillation.

Exploring relationships with strangers, or even old friends, over the internet, even though there may be no physical contact, can result in emotional betrayals. The forbidden fruit is more desirable because it is forbidden. The excitement of the illicit strengthens the temptation. The way to protect your marriage is to so fill your union with love, and faithfulness, that there is no room for anything else. Just as an alcoholic has to give up drinking, and avoid places where he might be tempted, so the sexual and emotional addict has to associate only with those people and places who will reinforce desires that are legitimate and life-affirming.

Many spouses have had to play second fiddle to the other interest in their partner's life: work, a career, a hobby, a community group, sports or an addiction. There is more than one way to commit adultery. Juggling all the interests in one's life can put a severe strain on a marriage. Neglect and abuse can result in finding comfort and love elsewhere. "Those who are without sin," said Jesus, "should cast the first stone." (Jn.8:7)

The first miraculous sign Jesus performed, was when he turned the water into wine at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. If our marriages and friendships are going to experience mutual joy, we need to invite Jesus to turn what is our ordinary affection into a craving for the wine of heavenly love. We need to be intoxicated by his Spirit so that we are filled to overflowing with extravagant love for one another. Just as we take the bread, and it becomes for us a token of his body given for us, and we take the cup and it is transformed into his blood shed for us; so we welcome him into our relationships and ask him to miraculously live out his life of love through us. His saving presence can give us the power to love others in purity of heart.

An audio version of this presentation may be found on www.ameliachapel.com.

Amelia Plantation Chapel

Amelia Island, Florida

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