on marriage: meaning and significance

My sister is getting married today, and I could not be more excited for her and the life she about to enter. Not too long ago she asked if I would be willing and able to do the ceremony–a request that touched my heart deeply. I responded with: ‘Absolutely!’ However, circumstances (geographical, chronological, financial and personal) prevent me from being able to fulfil my sister’s request, and it pains me that such is the case. In spite of this set back, I would like to quote something that I would have read anyway at the ceremony. The quotation, I think, captures the root meaning and significance of what marriage is and how it is to be treated by those who commit to it.

Marriage is more than your love for each other. It has a higher dignity and power, for it is God’s holy ordinance, through which he wills to perpetuate the human race till the end of time. In your love you see only your two selves in the world, but in marriage you are a link in the chain of generations, which God causes to come and to pass away to his glory, and calls into his kingdom. In your love you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at the post of responsibility towards the world and mankind. Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than something personal–it is a status, an office. Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man. As you first gave the ring to one another and have now received it a second time from the hand of the pastor, so love comes from you, but marriage from above, from God. As high as God is above man, so high are the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of marriage above the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of love. It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.

–Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ‘A Wedding Sermon from a Prison Cell (May 1943)’, in Letters and Papers from Prison.

Cat, I love you dearly and I am eternally grateful to have you as my sister. I wish you and Brennon the absolute best in your new life together, and I will pray continually for its challenges, adventures, struggles and successes. My only two bits of advice (for now–haha) are these: 1) never waste an opportunity to say ‘I love you’ and never let it become merely something to say, and 2) realise that ‘fights’ are inevitable, but always remember to ‘fight’ fair. (I confess the second one comes from Derek; it was something he said at my wedding). Okay, one more bit of advice: never give up. Giving up is easy and it only shows the thing given up as not worthwhile, whereas not giving up is extremely difficult; but it shows the thing held onto as worth fighting for.

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