This service, this marriage ceremony, is going to be a blur for Alan and Bernadette. I’m sure that some moments will stand out for them. Perhaps that moment before walking down the aisle just a few minutes ago, or the promises that they will make in just a few moments, or the feeling of the cool metal ring slipping onto a finger. Those are the moments I remember at my own wedding.
I have one other really clear memory though…. Just after the service, a dear friend sidled up to me in a quiet moment and stood gazing at his wife and at my new husband. He told me about his theory of marriage… He said that in every marriage one person is the lucky one and one person is the wonderful one. You know how it goes… Someone is always saying “He’s so wonderful! You’re so lucky!” He finished up by saying, “Welcome to the club, Hailey…Like me, you get to be the lucky one.”
I’ve thought a lot about that idea… and I’ve come to a different conclusion. I think that in the best marriages each person is both lucky AND wonderful. That’s the beauty of the tradition of the Episcopal Church. As a community, we embrace duality. We believe that it’s always possible to be both/and so that we don’t have to settle for either/or.
This marriage service demonstrates that ability to embrace dichotomy in many beautiful ways. It’s about the wisdom of the East and the West. It’s about the beauty of Hebrew scriptures and Hindu mantras. It’s about what we know and what we hope. It’s about being individuals and still a community.
Most of all, though, today is about the abiding love commanded by Gospel and the lifelong journey represented in the labyrinth.
In the Gospel, Jesus talks about the abiding love God has for us and the love we are expected to offer to each other.
That’s an old-fashioned word—Abide. In fact, the usage of the word abide peaked about a hundred years ago and has been in decline ever since. And yet this important word is used three times in three short verses.
By definition, abiding refers to the ability continue without fading or being lost. It is a state of being…when we abide we remain constant. In it’s essence, abiding is about obedience and persistence.
Jesus said: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” It reminds us that in our deepest and most profound relationships we get a small glimpse of the great love that God has for us. Jesus said “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” It reminds us that when we stay aware of God’s loved we are on the right path in knowing how to love each other.
A marriage built on abiding love is one makes room for change and growth. It withstands misunderstanding and even moments of anger and sadness. Abiding love is what will allow you both, Bernadette and Alan, to be the wonderful people that each of you deserves.
The other prominent symbol is the one that is right below our feet: the labyrinth. In the Middle Ages, walking a cathedral labyrinth was a substitute for going on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Today, meandering labyrinths are often used as walking meditations, to focus the mind and put the walker in tune with the greater reality of always being on a journey toward that which is holy, towards God.
Unlike a maze, which is full of tricky twists and turns and dead ends, the labyrinth always moves the walker to the center. It may seem, at times, as if there is no progress toward the goal, and perhaps at times even backward movement. In reality, the path always draws us nearer to the abiding love of God.
The labyrinth too has lessons to offer about the journey of marriage that Bernadette and Alan are embarking upon. If you’ve ever walked a labyrinth with another person (or a group of people), you’ll know that it’s a much different experience than walking alone.
At times, we find ourselves drawing very near to others on the path, so that we are standing side by side. At other times, we are far apart, and seemingly pointing in different directions. And yet, in all of those moments, everyone in reality has the same goal, to reach the center, and is making progress in that direction.
Marriage is the same. We are both walking the path for ourselves, and yet we are sharing the journey with another. There will be times that Bernadette and Alan, that you will feel very far apart from each other, and perhaps even alone. In those moments, have faith that you are both moving toward the center, both pointed in the same direction. Know that when you sense distance, time and an abiding willingness to walk the journey will allow you to draw together again.
As you begin this journey of marriage, I pray that the love that you have for each other will remind you daily of the abiding love of God. I pray that you will be a reminder of all those around you of the joy and peace of truly abiding love. And I pray that each of you will know that you are both wonderful and lucky to be together on this journey.