From a 2018 wedding sermon:
The text for my meditation today comes from the funny papers; from a comic strip called Pearls Before Swine. I have a Biblical text also, but first this. It is called “The Six Stages of Marriage” and it contains six frames. I will describe each one to you. The first frame is the wedding day, and the couple is holding hands, looking loving into each other’s eyes, and saying, “You are the greatest thing that ever happened to me.” That is the sort of thing brides and grooms say to each other on their special day. In the second frame, the next stage of marriage, the two of them are sitting on opposite ends of a couch, with their backs to each other, looking sad, and each is thinking, “You are not as great as I thought.” Usually, after two people have been married for a while, those kinds of thoughts will come into their minds. In the third frame, a slightly older couple are facing each other, leaning forward with angry looks on their faces, and now they are saying to each other, “You need to change.” Has anyone here ever wished their spouse could change a few things about their habits or priorities or moods? In the fourth frame, the two of them, older yet, are looking straight ahead, saying “You can’t be changed.” After more than four decades of marriage, my wife and I are still working on tweaking a few things about each other; but we continue to resist such efforts, and at this point, we are both pretty sure nothing is going change. We are moving into what is depicted in the fifth frame, where an old grandpa and an old grandma are hugging each other and saying, finally, “I accept you as you are.” The sixth and final frame is the tear-jerker, as it depicts only one of them, the old man, standing by a gravestone, on which he has placed a bouquet of flowers. And the words on this frame, are the exact same words as were in the first frame that depicted their wedding day. The old man is saying, “You are the greatest thing that ever happened to me.”
Now of course, it doesn’t always work that way. But that is the idea. And what the two of you are doing here today is you are making a promise to stick with each other through all six of those stages, or as the marriage vows say,“Til death do us part.” You have to make it through the difficulties of stages two, three, and four, in order to get to the gratitude and blessings of stages five and six. And there has not ever been a married couple on earth that has always, and for the entire time, felt like doing that. And so the marriage vows are not about feelings, they are about a commitment– a commitment to see to it that you do make it through all six stages as so accurately portrayed in the funny papers.
And most importantly, you are making your vows in a church, so that means you are making God a part of all this. Here in America we are big on personal decisions and free choices and all that. We aren’t like some countries where parents arrange their children’s marriages, so we are free to pick our own marriage partners. But that is not all that is involved here. Yes, you have chosen each other, and yes, you have chosen to be married in the church—but God has been a part of your relationship all along, and God is involved in the vows you make.
So now I will finally get to the Biblical text I told you would be coming. It is from the words of Jesus in Matthew 19. These words are often read at weddings, as Jesus there says, “In the beginning the Creator made them male and female and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.” What GOD has joined together, Jesus said. God has brought the two of you together so, Jesus says, “What GOD has joined together, let no one separate.”
One other Biblical text, this one from the one of passages you choose to be read today. In John 15:11-12 Jesus said, “I have told you all this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” There is the key to getting through all six stages. God commands both of you, and all of us, to love with a love like the love of Jesus, and that is a love that is committed, serving, self-sacrificing, and faithful. Continue to keep God in your lives and pray for the ability to love like that, and pray for God’s wisdom and guidance, and you will be all right.
(Pearl Before Swines, by Stephan Pastis, January 21, 2018)
Psalm 71:9 — Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone.
Proverbs 5:18 — May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
Matthew 19:4-6 — (Jesus said), “At the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
A PRAYER FOR MARRIED COUPLES:
O God, out of all the world you let us find one another and learn together the meaning of love. Let us never fail to hold love precious. Let the flame of it never waver or grow dim, but burn in our hearts as an unwavering devotion, and shine through our eyes in gentleness and understanding. Teach us to remember the little courtesies, to be swift to speak the grateful and happy word, to believe rejoicingly in each other’s best, and to face all life bravely because we face it with a united heart. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
–Walter Russel Bowie (1882-1969), Rector of Grace Episcopal Church, New York City