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Marriage – renewal of vows

Trinity 1 BCP

10 June 2007 11:00 | Fr. Roderick Leece

Welcome – to all who were married here, either recently by myself or by Fr. John Cullen, or by the former Rectors Fr. John Slater, or Fr. Bill Atkins or even before his era. The building, the locus, of major events in our lives remains vibrant in our memories – and I enjoyed popping back to Portsmouth Cathedral where I was ordained, and St. Mary’s Portsea, where I served as a curate, on my way back from Dorset just this last Wednesday. I hope that the happiest of memories are washing over you whether you were married here or elsewhere.

‘Marriage’ says a feminist graffiti ‘is a fine institution, but who wants to live in an institution?’ We know, of course, it is people and not institutions that matter, and instead of regarding marriage principally as an institution or social device – to join property and families – we now view it primarily as a freely chosen relationship between two people. Mirroring the relationship between Christ and his people. I love this image of the Church with Christ the bridegroom, and we the holy Church his bride. The Christian home, is the smallest Christian community, and therefore aptly described as the ‘domestic church’. Living in the community of vowed marriage is the way people chose to live out the gospel.

The Bible begins with the creation of man and woman in the image and likeness of God, and ends with a vision of ‘the wedding feast of the Lamb’…and whether at the alpha or omega stage of life we give thanks for the holy mystery of man and woman becoming one flesh. Of all human relationships, Christian marriage is the one that can express most fully the qualities of God. Fidelity, unconditional love, forgiveness, trust, the creation of new life, tenderness and compassion are just some of the qualities of God’s love for us his children, and they are made real in marriage.

The present Pope made love the subject of his first encyclical to his Church: Deus Caritas Est. It is worth reading the whole document, as he has some beautiful things to say, but he begins by trying to define terms:

‘Let us first of all bring to mind the vast semantic range of the word “love”: We speak of love of country, love of one’s profession, love between friends, love of work, love between parents and children, love between family members, love of neighbour and love of God. Amid this multiplicity of meanings, however, one in particular stands out: love between man and woman, where body and soul are inseparably joined and human beings glimpse an apparently irresistible promise of happiness.’

The Greeks of course had several words for our one word, love. As far as Christian And love in its Christian meaning is more than eros (sexual desire), more than philia (liking). The source of the love we call agape is not human emotions or sentiments, but issues from within the very being of God himself. God IS love. I’ve heard the comment that if eros is all take, and philia is give and take, then agape, Christian love, is all give. This is the love that spends itself so generously as our Lord Jesus Christ gives himself over to death on a cross.

This kind of love – agape – is illustrated in a wonderful story you might know by the American writer O. Henry. The Gift of the Magi. He wrote about a young married couple, Jim and Della who were very poor, but very much in love. It was Christmas Eve and Jim and Della were wanting to give the best present they could to each other. Having no money to buy presents, each one, without telling the other, decided to sell his or her most precious possession. Della’s most precious possession was her beautiful long golden hair, and so she went to a hairdressers and had it cut off. She sold her hair to buy a little chain for a watch which had been left to Jim by his father. She rushed home and found her beloved Jim awaiting her. Looking at her. his eyes were filled…as he handed her his gift. It was a lovely set of beautiful combs. He had just sold his watch to buy them for her. So, there was no hair left for the combs, and no watch for the chain. Yet they were left with something far more precious – agape – their self sacrificing love for each other.
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