On a Wedding

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A few years back, some friends–Boris and Martha–asked me to give the charge at their wedding. Here’s part of what I said…

The old wedding ceremony from the Book of Common Prayer says that Christ “adorned and beautified” marriage “with his presence and first miracle that he wrought in Cana of Galilee.” You know that story. The wine had given out, so Jesus turned six big stone pots full of water into wine. A hundred gallons of wine.

When they served it out, the guests were astonished—not because Christ had turned water into wine (they didn’t know that), but because it was better than the wine the host had served first. The steward marveled, “But thou hast kept the good wine until now.”

Richard Wilbur wrote a poem about that miracle. It was a wedding toast for his son and daughter-in-law, and the two middle stanzas go like this:

It made no earthly sense, except to show
How whatsoever love elects to bless
Brims with a sweet excess
That can without depletion overflow.

Which is to say that what love sees is true,
That the world’s fullness is not made, but found.
Life hungers to abound,
And pour its plenty out for such as you.

In one sense, the miracle at Cana isn’t as outlandish as it seems. God turns water into wine every day. I’m not speaking metaphorically here. I’m speaking as literally as I know how to speak. The rain falls to the earth by God’s grace, and it travels up the vine to plump the grape. And then, by some process that none of us understands, the drop of rain is translated into a drop of wine, that maketh the heart glad.

The miracle at Cana is a picture of God doing what he does all the time. And yet, there’s no mistaking that on that wedding day, the grace of God was multiplied to an extravagant, an almost embarrassing degree. A hundred gallons of good wine! And the deliberate, sometimes slow process by which God blesses was foreshortened into a single, transformative moment.

***

I heard about a man in Nashville who had the floor of his study covered in Moroccan leather. Can you even imagine that kind of extravagance, that kind of luxury? The very ground the man walks on is Moroccan leather! But it’s no more extravagant than what the two of you are doing. By taking the vows you’re about to take, you’re declaring that the very foundation of your life together is a promise more precious than any Moroccan leather. The ground that you walk on, the roof over your heads, the walls that surround you—the raw material for all of it is a love that is both rich and enriching. It’s an embarrassment of riches.

If you don’t believe that—if that sounds like gross hyperbole—then what are you doing here? Why are you standing here in front of God and everybody, putting all your eggs in this one basket? “Forsaking all others.” Why would you do that, unless you really believed you were moving from glory unto glory—from good water to a hundred gallons of good wine. No, you must believe it.

Martha, Boris, I don’t know what you deserve. You don’t either, by the way. But if marriage has taught me anything, it has taught me how little deserving has to do with it. Love is a kind of grace: the worthiness of its object is never what matters. No, worthiness is a poor basis for love. Rather, the worth of the beloved is revealed in the mere fact of being loved. Ahead of you stretches a whole lifetime of learning what it was that made you love one another. Maybe you think you know already. If you do, you’re the exception.

None of us knows what lies ahead. I don’t know what kind of trouble and heartache lie ahead for me. But I know there’s a balm. And she’s the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning, the last thing I see before I go to sleep at night. That is an astonishing thing to think about. If life offers any richer blessing this side of heaven, I surely don’t know what it is.

By standing here and taking the vows you’re about to take, the two of you are putting yourselves in a position to lay hold of more happiness than you deserve. Not everybody gets that chance. Plenty of people have the chance and they blow it.

So here’s my charge to you: Live in the grace you’ve been given. There’s not much hope for a person who won’t live in the grace he’s been given. “Life hungers to abound / And pour its plenty out for such as you.” But life doesn’t usually force its plenty down your throat. If you would rather have your own way than be happy, life doesn’t mind shrugging its shoulders and saying, “Okay, have it your way.” Martha, Boris, I hope you won’t clutch so tightly to your own agenda, your own idea of the way your life ought to be, that you don’t have a free hand to scoop up the blessings that are being poured at your feet.

Marriage is a state of grace. And it’s a great mystery. And Christ adorned and beautified by  his presence and first miracle that he wrought at Cana of Galilee—by turning good water into good wine, that maketh the heart glad.

Jonathan Rogers is the author of The Terrible Speed of Mercy, one of the finest biographies of Flannery O’Connor we've ever read. His other books include the Wilderking Trilogy–The Bark of the Bog Owl, The Secret of the Swamp King, and The Way of the Wilderking–as well as The World According to Narnia and a biography of Saint Patrick. He has spent most of his adult life in Nashville, Tennessee, where he and his wife Lou Alice are raising a houseful of robustious children.


23 Comments

  1. Rob Dunbar

    I can’t think of a finer wedding message than this. It’s perfect. That’s all the comment I can make.

  2. E

    Jonathan,

    Nicely done!

    One of the things I love about marriage is that, like worship, when you pour out your heart completely and give yourself away, you find that your heart is overflowing and somehow, you get more than you ever give.

    When it is clicking, it is a great picture of God’s love.

    Hang on while I go hug my wife…

  3. Nathanael

    I love how you can start a post with “A few years back…” with no explanation about what brought it to mind this morning, and yet these timeless truths and beautiful words speak right to our very souls in this moment.
    Well done, Jonathan.

    And those stanzas from the Wilbur poem are AWESOME!

    Shalom

  4. kelli

    Jonathan…this is beautiful. Thank you! We so often lose sight of the gift and beauty of marriage and plod along in the day-to-day of it. This is such a good reminder of what marriage is created to be and how to live in grace in the midst of the day-to-day.

    And did I hear a quote from Bayard? “Live in the grace you’ve been given…” I read your trilogy a few years back, and that is one of the quotes that has stuck with me…I love it!

    Thank you for sharing this!

  5. Shawn

    “Worthiness is a poor basis for love. Rather, the worth of the beloved is revealed in the mere fact of being loved.”

    Wow.

    You have hit on one of the great truths of all time. Beyond marriage, how does/should this affect how we live our lives, how we interact with others, and how we see every person that God created in His image? I have a lot of work to do! Praise God for His grace and love – I am loved – and in the midst of all my sinfulness, His love reveals a purpose for me with my worth and value found in Jesus Christ.

    You have begun to rival Professor Ron Block for deep theological truths hiding in your narrative. Thank you, but I have to say it again:

    Wow.

  6. Aaron Roughton

    “No, worthiness is a poor basis for love. Rather, the worth of the beloved is revealed in the mere fact of being loved.”

    Outstanding Jonathan. I wish I could get this through my head.

  7. Jonathan Rogers

    @jonathanrogers

    Kelli, you’re certainly an attentive reader. Yes, that’s a quote from Bayard-“There’s not much hope for a man who won’t live in the grace he’s been given.” Sort of a recurring theme for me.

    E., Sheila, I’m glad to know my post inspired you to call and hug your spouses. Here’s hoping many hugs and calls result…

  8. Tony Heringer

    she’s the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning, the last thing I see before I go to sleep at night. That is an astonishing thing to think about. If life offers any richer blessing this side of heaven, I surely don’t know what it is.

    Had to stop a minute there bro. Too misty eyed to read further. Thanks and amen!

  9. Robert Jacobsen

    Johnathan – Great stuff – if I may I’d like to use some of this at an upcoming wedding as part of the homily. (with proper attribution, but without it turning into a Bibliography – maybe something like “one of the finest writers of our time, the great Johnathan Rogers shared this with me”- that is if you are the Wilderking Author – if not, I’ll take the “great” out – not because you aren’t but because I have no idea who you are or any other frame of reference.

    Thanks for bringing out a texture to God’s word that often escapes me.

    Grace, Peace, and Joy

  10. Jonathan Rogers

    @jonathanrogers

    Sure, Robert, feel free to use any of the above post in your wedding homily.

    I did write the Wilderking books–you’ve got the right Jonathan Rogers. One little thing about your proposed attribution: do you think you could change “our time” to “all time”?

  11. Stephen Lamb

    @stephen-lamb

    This is great, Jonathan. I love that partial quote from Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. I was just repeating it to some friends last week.

    “Love is holy because it is like grace – the worthiness of its object is never really what matters.”

  12. Jonathan Rogers

    Stephen, you’re right about that being a borrowing from Robinson. I wrote that piece a few years ago, and I forgot that I was (more or less) quoting her. So thanks for giving credit where it’s due. Gilead has so thoroughly influenced me that I don’t always know when I’m referencing it.

  13. Seth

    I really enjoyed this homily, Jonathan. The emphasis on extravagance and grace is moving and poetic. But I can’t help but think that the scope is too limited. It seems that the focus is only on the two people getting married, that they are the most crucially impacted by their union and the benefits thereof. It seems that a Christian wedding must have a trajectory beyond the husband and wife. As particular people with an universal identity as a Body we must view all blessings and tragedies as spilling over into the Church. Therefore, a marriage in a church must recognize that the two standing before that pulpit are not separate but inextricably a part of the community and any and all joy, happiness and fulfillment is not for their sake and for them to experience apart but within and with the Church. Not to emphasize this crucial aspect of marriage is to reinforce the idea that Christians (or anyone for that matter) can have a close economy of blessing, gift, love and grace within that relationship, found and completed in the beloved.

    Again, I do appreciate that you are trying to portray marriage as an abundant and joyful experience rather than a duty or begrudging commitment and that we can embrace marriage with happiness beyond our expectations. But without the proper location and trajectory, I think the pitfall of marriage is that it becomes a fulfillment of the individuals, a completion of oneself in the beloved rather than a ground by which the two individuals can better serve the Body of Christ and welcome others into their experience of extravagant blessing.

    At the moment I am thinking about marriage a ton because I am looking to get married very soon myself! So I am taking all that you wrote very seriously and your post gave me much to consider. Thanks again.

  14. Jonathan Rogers

    @jonathanrogers

    Thanks for that perspective, Seth. That’s a helpful reminder–a comprehensive vision of marriage would have to look at the larger community in which a marriage exists. I would just add that the power of a marriage to bless the larger community derives from the intensity of the experience of the two people in that little microcosm that is a marriage.

    There are a couple of lines from the Medieval poem ‘Cleanness’ on the tip of my tongue that are relevant to this, but I can’t quite find them. If I do, I’ll post them in a subsequent comment.

    Meanwhile, Seth, here’s to a joyful and fruitful marriage for you and your beloved.

  15. Toni Whitney

    I work at at beautiful farm that is rented out for weddings each summer. My job is to prepare and maintain the extensive gardens, which is a labor of love for me.

    I often get to meet the couples strolling the grounds as they are planning out their “day”, and I am always pondering: Will God even be present? Or will this be just another ceremony with pre-nutual agreements, “just in case” .

    Thank you Jonathan for this post. I will have it in my mind as I pray for each union that is made here. My husband did not honor his vows, even as a believer.

    Thank you all for what you have shared. It is a blessing to see husbands and wives that are now loving each other as Christ continues to love his Church.

    God’s grace is getting what we don’t deserve. God’s love is getting His grace.

  16. brent g

    I’ll join in. That was great. I think I will also go hug my lovely wife. Thank you!

  17. Dieta

    Woke up irritable with the world, and therefore my spouse was the first to see it-needed the wake up from this to adjust my attitude and remember grace and gratitude for 22 beautiful years. Thanks for ringing my bell a bit-much needed!

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