Marriage has been on my mind lately. I woke up to the news Saturday morning that the Hawaii House of Representatives has given the Aloha State the title of "Sweet 16" in the march toward marriage equality in the nation. I served as a verger and crucifer at a wedding at St. John's. My partner and I are mulling over our own plans for how and when we might marry which comes with a peculiar complication of my call, and what the church will ask us to do as an interfaith couple, to have our union blessed. And I have friends posting to Facebook about the fees a church is charging for the time of the staff and use of the facility.
And then along comes the gospel lesson from Luke with the Sadducees quizzing Jesus on the hypothetical woman whose husband dies and leaves her childless, and then all of his brothers, one by one, marry her and die before having children. They want to know from Jesus, when this woman finally dies, to whom is she married? Jesus basically answers, "Nobody because marriage is about what happens on earth, and in heaven, she's nobody's wife because she's alive with God." We don't know how the Sadducees take this answer, but given their unbelief in the resurrection, one might think they thought Jesus was nuts. And the point of Jesus' teaching isn't about marriage, but it is interesting to me that this is the issue that the Sadducees decide to raise in this interrogation of Jesus. And I thought it was interesting what Jesus said:
"Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive." --Luke 20:34-38
I don't think Jesus is arguing for people not to get married; indeed, I think the point he's making to his questioners goes way beyond their original scenario to answer the question in the their hearts about the resurrection. The life we have after death takes us beyond all the mundane trappings of this life and brings us to a new stage of living, one that is beyond our ability to understand, comprehend, or explain. Some who have had near death experiences speak about what happened to them in ways that I think indicate that they have possibly been on the other side of the veil between the living and the dead, but not far enough to give us a real understanding of the life to come. And that is how it should be. When we're ready for the experience, it will come, and not a moment before then.
But getting back to things mundane: marriage. I find that this topic ranks right up next to money as one of the leading causes of high-blood pressure and extreme stress. Something that is supposed to be a joyous occasion gets mired in messiness and mayhem. It doesn't seem to bring out the best behavior in people. One of my friends used to be a wedding photographer, which meant that she would spend many a Saturday afternoon bearing witness to "the show" that so many weddings have become. And the actors in these plays would have many moments of bitchiness, with brides getting angry and bride's mothers fussing and wedding planners bossing her around and the sexism and heterosexism of the language in the service, and people getting drunk. She'd often come back from these affairs complaining about, "God damn straight people and their God damn straight weddings!" Sometimes, the affairs would be pleasant, but those were usually the ones where the couple getting married had already been down this path once in their lives, and knew better.
I suppose, then, it was only appropriate for Christ to take a question about "whose bride is she anyways" and turn it into a teaching on the most-life giving relationship about becoming even more one with God. The marriage rite for straight people in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer makes much of Adam and Eve and the second creation story in Genesis as the basis for saying that marriage is "of God." But then if that's the case, look what happened to the loving couple! And then their children! If the two that had become one flesh had stayed in relationship with God, and done as they had been told, then they'd have stayed in the Garden of Eden and Abel might have lived to a ripe old age and Cain might never have succumbed to jealousy. It also would have meant we wouldn't have had a good story to explain why people always impose their will over God's will; hence why we sin and fall down.
As lovely as marriage may be as a sacrament, I still am not convinced that it is a necessary function of the church to be involved in any way beyond blessing and pledging to love and support the couple, and encouraging their mutual love and affection for each other. The church should preach that the couple's love be a reflection of their individual love and affection for God. The legal function of marrying people should be done by an officer of the state, not the church. Let the state take care of the paperwork ahead of time; then let the church join in the celebration of a new union of two people. And remind that couple that while this union is brought together on earth, their relationship remains by, with and in God.