While Nietzsche’s assertion that God is dead has been widely quoted for more then a century, his equally provocative statement about bourgeois marriage – “It has lost its meaning, and is consequently being abolished” – is rarely repeated. But that doesn’t make it any less valid. In fact, it couldn’t be timelier.
Never have so many couples lived together, not just before marrying, but without any intention of doing so. Never have promoters of so-called alternative lifestyles lobbied so hard to undermine traditional views of marriage. Add to that a host of economic and social forces driving couples apart, and one might be justified in asking: Why bother?
For about 150 people who gathered in New York City on August 23, it was all the more refreshing, then, to witness a wedding that reminded everyone present what Christian marriage is really about.
The novelist Zora Neale Hurston, a longtime resident of Harlem, once wrote, “Love makes your soul crawl out of its hiding place.” If there was ever an event that reflected this truth, it was the wedding: a most remarkable mix of ethnicities and age groups and backgrounds did indeed come out of their hiding places, not just to observe an event, but to unite in a general celebration of love and joy.
Part of what made the wedding memorable was the setting: a tree-lined block emptied of cars. As guests arrived, the bride’s parents were still sweeping up litter, and neighbors were setting up the last row of folding chairs. Friends brought platters of food, and drinks, and children on skateboards and bicycles sped up and down the impromptu aisles, making the most of an afternoon when for once there was no traffic to worry about.
Meanwhile, a jazz trio struck up with a driving number, and soon the whole block was vibrating. At the Stevie Wonder favorite, “Isn’t she lovely,” a group of children from the daycare center where the bride works led the couple to their seats under an arch of sunflowers.
The wedding sermon was brief. Essentially, it was a reminder of what Jesus said about marriage in the Gospels: that because of love, a man will leave his father and mother and cleave to a woman, and the two shall become one. He said that when they have been brought together in this way – in marriage – no one should be allowed to destroy their bond.
The couple spoke next: about how they had sought, from the start of their relationship, to keep Jesus in the center, and how they intended to build their marriage on faith in him. The vows they made to each other right after this spelled this out. Aside from making the familiar promises of staying loyal “in sickness and health, until death do us part,” the groom referred to the Apostle Peter, who said that unless a husband respects and honors his wife, his prayers will be hindered. The couple also vowed to place faithfulness to Christ above their marriage: that if either of them should forsake the way of discipleship, the other would rather stay firm than follow that partner, even if it meant separating.
This last promise probably took several in the audience off guard; but as the groom later explained, the couple felt that their greatest protection for the future would be to seal their unity by placing it within a deeper context – unity with God. (Ironically, none other than the same philosopher quoted above – Nietzsche – recognized the need for such a common purpose that overarches marriage, and holds it together: “I call marriage...the reverent will of two to create something that is greater than those who created it.”)
Following this, the groom’s father said a blessing, and the couple exchanged rings and cut their cake; the jazz band played again, and guests mingled in the street. Some stayed into the evening. My wife and I left the celebration feeling that, as at every wedding, we had been presented with the opportunity to re-affirm our own marital commitment. I know of others who felt the same. Even if you’re not married, it’s always good to pause and consider your relationships with loved ones – children, parents, and anyone else whose life intersects with your own. Because “love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone. Like bread, it has to be made new every day.” (Ursula K. le Guin)