What it all means.
As beautiful as the Eastern wedding service is, there is part of the service that poses great difficulty to a good number of -people, and that is the prescribed Epistle reading (Eph. 5:22-33). A reading that is probably one of the most difficult readings to understand, let alone follow. But I am very glad that we decided today to keep this reading, instead of substituting an easier one for it.
This reading is almost infamous — it’s that “wives be submissive…” reading. But first, before we go directly to our examination of this reading, let us look at some of the circumstances in which St. Paul was writing. Simply put, the idea of matrimony was in shambles, it was in disarray and abused in all three of the major cultures with which Paul was in contact. All Jewish men had to do to end their marriage was to hand his wife a, bill of divorce if she in any way had displeased him. Among the Greeks there no longer was any union or relationship between husbands and wives, her job was only to raise children. And by that time among the Romans people began to pride themselves on how many times they had been married. So what St. Paul was trying to do in this situation was to elevate the state of matrimony to a holy and precious state again. He did this by comparing the marital union to the most beautiful and holy union he could imagine, the union between Christ and Church.
Christ’s love for us – the Church – humanity in general, was so deep and profound that first of all, he became one of us, in the incarnation. And He loved us, as imperfect as we are, to the point of great suffering and even death, that then ultimately lead to our salvation in Christ’s resurrection. And Christ did not stop loving us then, but his love continues. How does He do this? He loves his people by being forgiving, no matter what we have done, his love is there ready for us all, and all we need to do is accept it. His love is not selfish, for his love for us is not for his glory but rather ultimately for ours. He never commands us, though if anyone has the authority to do so he does, but instead of commanding us, his stance is one of invitation, an invitation to share in his life in the Trinity. And then what is then the proper response of the Church to this perpetual invitation. This leads us to what is probably the most problematic word in today’s reading. Yes, in response to the invitation we are to be obedient and submissive. But it is very important to remember that Christ is not, I repeat, is not interested in blind obedience, for there is no virtue or greatness in that, I might also add, that there is no love in this type of response either. If God were interested in blind obedience, then we would have been created as machines. Christ desires the type of response only a free-willed person can give, we are called to respond to the invitation with love, it is then the joyful free acceptance of the invitation from someone that we know loves us.
And when St. Paul the Apostle compares this reality with married life, we must first of all remember that it is a metaphor, it is a model of what he sees would be the perfect marital union, based on the perfect union between Christ and Church. The basis of this passage, we can say is not control but rather love. A love that is not only romantic, but also patient, forgiving, caring, sacrificing, and purifying, as modeled upon Christ. It is a sacrificial love because as Christ does not love us for his own gain, we too should love selflessly, putting the needs of the other before our own, making the necessary sacrifices for our loved one’s good, even if it may be painful. We cannot only love when it is easy to or when we are loved in return, no, to emulate Christ’s love we must go beyond ourselves and stretch our limits. The love we are after is also a purifying and sanctifying love. It is a love that cleanses and refines character, not coarsens it, we should strive to always bring out the best in each other. Christian love is a caring love. Care that nourishes and sustains, as we do our own bodies, caring for the spouse’s well being. for, spouses are there not to serve us but rather that we may nurture and care for them. It is an unbreakable love, one that endures, endures through both good and bad times even mediocre times. It is an unbreakable love that is forgiving and selfless. And finally, it is an obedient love that is always ready to respond to invitation with love and respect, the mutual respect that is trusting and does not always need explanation. A respect for each other’s person as well as wishes.
And to help us do this we return to the symbolism of the triple procession around the tetrapod where the couple was led by God. We need God to help us accomplish the difficult art of true Christian love. We should then invite the Lord into our loving relationships so that we will have a foundation in the ultimate source of love, a foundation that can carry us when it is too difficult to accomplish this on our own. Christ then becomes the third partner in our relationship, as the couple complements each other and makes up for the others’ imperfections, Christ then complements that couple. By allowing God into our lives and into our most intimate relationships, we then can truly become co-creators with God the Creator.
As we all well know, married life can be very fruitful and fulfilling but takes work sometimes, and sometimes we need help. As Christians, we should turn to God for this type of help. And when we need an example for us to models ourselves after, we should not turn to stories of chivalry or fairy tales, but rather to the ultimate example of perfect love God. Who in turn blesses us when necessary with the heeded power and strength to be patient when it is easier to be impatient, forgiving when it is easier to be judging, and help us be submissive when it is easier to be self-serving.