Yesterday was my parent’s 66th wedding anniversary. They were married for 64 years on this earth. It was a grace bestowed upon them by God, yet also a grace they tried to live into daily for every one of those 64 years. For all who are married, marriage is a daily training ground for learning to trust in God’s grace given in Jesus. I’m aware some marriages don’t turn out to be so grace-filled. As a parish priest, I walked alongside many people as they worked through their failing marriages trying to come to grips with that failure. So, I realize that in writing about marriage those who’ve had painful experiences may interpret what I write as some sort of judgment upon them. That’s certainly not my intention. I don’t wish to add to anyone’s heart break. At the same time, if we who are attending ourselves to discipleship in Jesus don’t see grace in the marriage covenant, we might not appropriate its connection to our daily living.

Like with every other sacrament of the Church, marriage is vocational. For Christians, it’s intended more to be something we’re called into, rather than something we fall into. This vocational focus is present in the BCP marriage rite when the church prays: “Make their life together a sign of Christ’s love to this sinful and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair.” To quote The Blues Brothers here, the married couple is “on a mission from God.” Far from adding a burden to the married couple (“On top of everything else, we’re on a mission from God?), this vocational mission helps them see that their covenant isn’t just about them. It’s not just about the spat they had about the toilet seat or any other daily annoyance their spouse visits upon them. It’s about what their life together “signs” to others, not because they’re always getting it right, but because they’re in the daily practice of extending grace to the other, forgiving and receiving forgiveness. And forgiveness is the best training ground for discipleship. We’ll know nothing about God’s grace or how to even begin to be a disciple of Jesus until we learn to practice forgiveness. And marriage, if it’s nothing else, is a daily, fertile ground for practicing and receiving forgiveness.

In the marriage covenant, the couple also learns to practice another discipleship virtue: forbearance. There’s a point in every marriage when one wakes up, turns to their beloved while they’re still asleep, and inwardly asks: “I married this?” And yet, we forbear. We forbear because the other has also asked the same question. What the marriage covenant helps us see, mirrored back to us, is our own imperfections, our own capacity to be petty, ill-tempered, and vindictive, or put succinctly, it helps us come to grips with our own sin. The gift the other gives is that we see in them a reflection of our own brokenness and need for God’s mercy. That will truly become a gift if we don’t run from it, but welcome it into our lives and make it a central part of our own discipleship.

As with most everything, the legendary John Prine sings it best about marriage:
In spite of ourselves
We’ll end up a’sittin’ on a rainbow
Against all odds
Honey, we’re the big door prize


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