YOU MARRIED people are funny - you make me laugh!"
I've said this many times to friends and parishioners - usually when they're sparking off each other in that delightful, knowing and trusting way which those committed in marriage for many years often show. It demonstrates understanding that we all have our foibles, funny ways. Often the best way to put up with them in others is to turn them into a joke. At times our odd sayings and actions are a sign of tiredness or worry - then we need consideration. Or we may be saying something tiresome, when we need gentle correction. Those in long stable marriages are often the best at this and are a lesson to the rest of us caring forbearance.
So I would wish to stress the third of the reasons for marriage (Welsh BCP p.739) as the most long lasting: "the mutual society, help and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity". I see this in action in the parish. I see it lived out in the marriages of friends elsewhere. It delights a priest's heart. It is a sign of the Kingdom, it is an encouragement to others. It is a pointer to the commitment to us of the Lord whose love never fails us. It is a call to us all to persevere cheerfully, and in a homely and human way in the Christian life whether God has called us to be married or single.
Perhaps what is missing in some modern marriages is the mark of God. The couples referred to are usually older, married in more stable days, when commitment mattered more than feelings. Not that there is any lack of affection in the joyful marriages which are such a fine example of Christian living. But is God there in the relationship? We should expect him to be so, for was he not present in so many family situations recorded in the Gospels? And we should expect to see him active in Christian family life, for do we not know God as the one at home with us, he who pitched his tent with us?
So we can do well to consider the gifts of God to married people by pondering those encounters of the Lord Jesus with various families. If we take just a sample, let us see what we can learn from his being at our side in our struggles to be at one in him. At the beginning of married life what better than to hear the delightful story of the marriage at Cana with its special guest. Unable to take a back seat his Mother persuades him to help the couple out of a spot of bother. He does - but as S. John makes clear it becomes a revelation of the utter generosity of God to us - so it is a call to know the rich graces granted to us in married life, and to have the courage to expect more of him than we perhaps do. He is ready to help - but do we ask?
Then along comes the children with the delights and challenges involved. Family life is often hit by tragedy, but the most devastating can be the illness and death of a child. To this acute problem our Lord readily responded in the case of Jairus' daughter. He brushed aside the paid mourners, too eager to begin work. He treats the family with respect - locking the door and taking only close colleagues to witness his care, and the inbreak of God's Kingdom into our fractured lives. As ever he resists the temptation for a show, and treats each person in need as very special. We should likewise expect him to deal with us in the same way today but we often prevent him and do not rest in his love with patient hope.
In later life bereavement can sever the tender bonds of marriage and leave one partner alone and bereft. Here we can turn to his encounter with the widow of Nain for encouragement. Our Lord saw how not only had she lost her beloved husband, but to further burden her, death also took her only son. It was the loss of affection and someone to care for as much as the loss of the bread-winner that hit her. Conscious of the precious bonds of family life our Lord raises the young man up to bring his mother hope and joy. Again it ushers in the Kingdom of God where there shall be no sorrow or sighing, but life everlasting!
To those married folk who share their space and hearth with others we can be immensely grateful. The single clergy know the delight of seeing "spark and support" at work in their parishes. It is a great work of God in the loving, humble marriages of "those whose hearts God has touched." So - thank you, committed married folk for your love for each other, spilling out to embrace the rest of us, like the wine of Cana! Thank God you are there! A sign of his kingdom in a disordered world.
Bernard Sharp is Vicar of Cwmbach, Aberdare in the diocese of Llandaff.
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