Recently we were talking at worship about Valentine’s Day. I have found that in many Roman Catholic churches, they take the opportunity to encourage those who are married by reminding them that their vows were made within the beloved community of the church. That the church pledges to come alongside them, as they seek to maintain those vows. To that end, there is a moment in the morning worship service closest to Valentines, where couples are asked to stand and reaffirm their vows for one another. I have always found this to be a powerful and Spirit-filled moment. The challenge was made, however, “Well, what about divorced or unmarried or widowed or just plain single folk? Won’t they be offended?” Speaking probably too quickly, I replied, “somebody is always offended by something; sometimes you just have to say that’s ok.” On more thoughtful reflection, I should have said that to those of us who stand on Valentine’s Day with empty arms – the blessing of the marriage bond is not meant to lock anybody out; rather, it is intended to lift folks up in the hardest commitment of their lives. As someone who has watched THREE marriages crash and burn, and who knows in her gut she will never marry again – I really do get how that lovely romantic hope can seem like a cruel joke, a fire burning along fault lines that just are forever raw and sore. But my struggles and pains should not dampen my appreciation (and honestly sheer awe!) of how powerful and wonderful and downright Spirit-filled that marriage commitment is when done right. Jesus never married, but he spoke of that powerful bond and how it should never be treated lightly or tossed aside for the next best thing to come along. Matthew 19:1-12 is not the most fun passage for me to preach, but I have come to understand that the Lord is serious about what it means to pledge your life to someone. The two become one, and the ending of that God ordained union does damage both to the people in the relationship and to the community around them. Let me be clear – God does not condone the abuse or neglect of any kind towards God’s children and the union that contains such abominations is not God ordained. Yet even the most sold unions experience pain and betrayal. It is that whole being in bondage to sin part of our human condition. In the end, marriage requires a commitment so strong that mere humans cannot keep it burning on their own; it takes the beloved community supporting and encouraging them, and it takes the Spirit Herself to fan dying embers back into flames. So, when we bless and reaffirm those who are in these arduous committed relationships, I would hope that those of us who are unmarried can bring our fiercest prayers to them and provide the support and love that they need to live these vows. If you are widowed, bring your warm memories and wrap them around these couples. If you are a lifelong single, bring your idealism to challenge them to be the best they can be. If you are divorced as I am (well, maybe not so thoroughly 😉), bring your knowledge of how high the river can rise and pray them to rise above it. If you are a survivor of abuse and neglect, bring them your stories and witness so that they may avoid the traps. Supporting the marriage vows of those married in our community is part of strengthening the whole organism.
So, as we walk this month that has such emphasis on mountain top moments of romance, hearts, candies, flowers and kisses – don’t feel locked out. Remember you are God’s beloved child, praying into the strength of God’s Beloved Community. Your turn to be lifted up will come – but right now we’re praying for the protection and sustenance of this blessed thing called marriage. Pray for these people who have dared to answer the call to become one. It is the challenge of a lifetime.