The Sharing Spirit - Marriage

The Touch of Love

There is an old eastern proverb which says, "One look is worth a dozen words and one touch is worth a dozen looks." It's true. Even the lightest touch speaks volumes. It can lift us into another world, the world of love. And it's interesting that the majority of couples who live together end up either marrying or separating.

For even living together in the closest intimacy still leaves something lacking in the hunger of the human heart. A desire to marry is a sign that each partner has been "touched" by another in an extra special way. They have opened their hearts to one another and finally found the courage to offer and to receive total commitment for life. There is a risk here for they are offering their whole life to another human being in complete trust. But love, the kind of authentic love which reflects the love of God, does just that; it is willing to give everything, even life itself, to the beloved. Such a magnificent reflection of God's love is almost too much for us to understand. People often say that they don't understand what a couple sees in one another. But love makes it possible for us to see what no one else sees except God - that the one who is loved is uniquely precious, irreplaceable and infinitely loveable. It is natural that those who experience such love want to tell the world and want their love to continue forever.

That is what is at the heart of Christian marriage; that is what is announced to the world on the wedding day. And in that announcement each partner touched the other in a special way; at the heart of the ceremony, the couple take one another's hand and exchange rings as a sign that their love is for life. From that moment on, as they touch one another in their lovemaking, they will re-create their own lives and create a new family as partners with God and the world.

The wedding day completes one period of a relationship and begins another. The love which has been acknowledged and publicly announced, now begins to grow and nurture each partner. This takes place in a variety of ways because every marriage is unique. If we look at our hands, the hands which exchange one of the first signs of "touch", we can see how each finger bears its own print - unrepeated on anyone else, ever, at any time.

It's been said that, "like fingerprints, all marriages are different." Each marriage is special, no marriage on earth is quite like another. Regardless of the kind of family a couple comes from, their parent's marriage or the kind of marriage they are "expected" to have, the partners of each marriage have the right and the call from God to create a marriage that is right for them - based on that unconditional love announced at their wedding.

Sex and Love

When we talk about "making love" we usually mean sexual intercourse between two people. But if we stop to think about it "making love" is much more than that. Sexual intercourse can just be a selfish ego trip or simply a desire to follow the crowd. But sexual intercourse is transformed when, in marriage, it becomes a sign of the special love of a couple. This is a love which shows itself in lifelong commitment to one another, in unselfishness, and which after tension or disagreement, can share genuine forgiveness.

This love, expressed in sexual intercourse is creative in two ways:

Each Partner Re-creates the Other

Perhaps for the first time each feels really free and has the trust to share themselves honestly and openly. Each may bring to the marriage scars from earlier relationships or from childhood. Love in marriage helps to heal these hurts. It offers the chance to start again. In the safety of one another's arms each discovers the liberation of true security, new depths, new values. Such experiences transform each partner and help their love to last.

New Life is Created

A special and unique sign of lovemaking is the creation of a completely new human being. The future of that child will depend very much on the quality of the love in a couple's life together.

God and Love

It's so much easier to believe in someone's love for us when we feel their arms about us. The touch of a partner re-assures us of their love. It should also reassure us of God's love. For Christians believe that God reaches out and touches us through the love of others. Jesus Christ is at the heart of all love.

Falling in love is a very human experience. But when we decide to consecrate that love in Christian marriage our human love becomes a sign in the world of God's love. Our experience tells us that there is something "extra" here-something beyond human explanation. When we pledge ourselves to unconditional love for life we show what Christ's own self-sacrificing love is like. Ours, like his, is a love without limits. We are in true partnership with God.

It's not surprising, then, that God does offer us his own supreme love to strengthen and sustain us and make perfect love possible. That's what's at the heart of Christian marriage. This mystery and miracle of love, the sacrament of marriage, is indeed a partnership with God. God is involved, intimately, in the relationship.

Faithfulness Matters

Following the words of Jesus himself, the Church teaches very strongly that marriage is for life. The reasons for this are both practical and spiritual. The practical reason is that we all need security in love and our personal life, and love which only depends on physical attraction and sexual passion is scarcely worth the name. Children particularly need a secure home, and risk being badly damaged by their parents splitting up. The spiritual reason is that by learning to love faithfully and unselfishly across good times and bad, we are actually learning to love as God loves, growing in his image, and preparing to share his life in heaven. Both reasons make it crucial that couples receive all possible support and try to make the marriage work even in times of difficulty. It is the most common experience of couples that sticking together through the bad times usually brings us through to a deeper commitment and a stronger love.

Unmarried People

Sometimes the Church seems to emphasize marriage and the family so much that others feel left out. The Church is for everyone - and many people, perhaps most nowadays, do not fit the conventional family pattern. What does the Church say to them remembering that all of us have sexual feelings and instincts?

Celibate people are those who feel positively that their vocation and fulfillment lie in the single life, and the Church has always honored this choice. Paul says that the single person may have more time and energy than others to serve the Lord. (I Cor. 7.32-3S) Many feel called and able to redirect their instincts of sexual love into other kinds of relationships which are loving and fulfilling but not sexually expressed. The Church and society have been served well by countless celibate lay people, as well as by celibate clergy, and by religious brothers and sisters who lead the celibate life in community.

But not all people who are single feel it as a positive vocation. Some would dearly wish to find a partner. Others have been widowed, or suffered the breakup of relationships. Some are single parents, who might hope to find a permanent partner. All have their place of welcome in Christ's Church as they seek to find and fulfill God's call in their personal life.

Divorce and Re-marriage

Nevertheless the Church recognizes that some marriages, sadly, will reach a point of irretrievable breakdown. Those who go through this experience need the Church's fullest measure of love, support and welcome, and the comfort of word, worship and sacrament. The Church also welcomes those who after the failure of a previous marriage have married again. Because of the nature of the wedding vows which are made "till death us do part", usually second marriages do not take place in Church, but are blessed after a civil ceremony. Sometimes this causes hurt, but most Christians feel that in a society where divorce is becoming increasingly common, it is important for us to uphold the teaching that marriage should be for life. At the same time, Jesus warned us against judging others  - all of us fall short of the ideal and fail to love as we ought.

What Happens at a Wedding?

The priest welcomes everyone present and reminds them of God's purposes in marriage.

The scriptures are read, and a sermon given.

The bride and groom promise to give themselves to one another "for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part."

Wedding rings are blessed and exchanged as a sign of the vows that they have taken and a sign that their commitment is unending.

The priest will bless the married couple.

Prayers are offered by everyone present for the couple and their future together.

A celebration of the Eucharist may follow.

To read more about the wedding ring, click here.

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