Good morning, shall we pray:
Well, it is an honour to be here. I am very privileged to be invited by Clarence and Joanne to speak at their wedding day. I knew Clarence when he came up to study in London, we ended up in the same church over there, and even on the same student Bible study table – in fact we spent quite a lot of time together, for almost 5 years I think – though strangely, we hardly knew one another all the years we’d been here in Zion Serangoon. And now look, here we are at his and Joanne’s big day! Wonderful.
What a wedding this is isn’t it, we have musicians, a trumpeter, an organ, wonderful decorations, a whole entourage of people: I almost wondered if we were back in London for the Royal Wedding – I’m sure from a certain angle Clarence could pass off as Prince William. But there is something majestic about a wedding isn’t there? It doesn’t matter how grand or small a ceremony it is, there’s just something about getting married – that is quite special. And it doesn’t really matter what culture or country you are from, the wedding ceremony, and the marriage that follows – is always a big deal – even if you insist on a weird scuba-diving or skiing wedding, or a tiny ceremony of your 5 closest friends – it’s still a big deal – you make a lot out of it anyway.
Now why is that? Why is it all of us, as much as some of us try so hard to resist it, seem to always get caught up in all these weddings and marriages? Well if you look at the text we read today from the Bible, it says there in verses 31-32:
Ephesians 5:31-32 (KJV) For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
A marriage, is a great or profound mystery. You know Clarence was telling me that he chose these verses as his marriage verses because they are very special to him – it was how he began to see his life, his relationship with Joanne very differently.
So what is it? What is this great mystery? Well, as the verses tell us, it is that marriage, gives us a picture of the great marriage of Christ and His Church – that is the good news of the Christian Faith. Isn’t that really strange? As I, in a minute watch Clarence and Joanne, very normal people, ok they are quite special - say those love-filled vows to one another, and as they take their first steps into married life, till death do them part, I am supposed to see something quite different. A picture of Jesus Christ, the great Bridegroom of the whole universe, and His Bride, the church – not this building – but the whole people of God that accept His great engagement proposal at the cross. That is why every marriage is so profound, and so captivating, even when we try to ignore it.
God the Father, the Creator of the entire universe, created everything that we see around us, so that it would tell us this one great truth: That He wanted His Son to have a bride for all eternity. And He built that great truth into the fabric of reality itself – into every one of us: that every time we see this: a union of 2 individuals into one flesh, even from the very first marriage of Adam and Eve – we would be reminded, that that is the great plan where all of reality is heading towards – the final marriage of Christ and His people. We see, as we look at them today, something much bigger than ourselves – something that all of us, if we say ‘I do’ to Jesus – can look forward to with a great expectation.
The whole of creation is looking forward to that Day when Christ will become One with His Bride, as much as Clarence is looking forward to becoming one with Joanne right here and now. And that is what they have written for us to read on their wedding invitations (show card).
Yet permit me to take a while to describe how that one-ness, that one flesh, as the Bible describes, should look like. What should we see when we see the ideal marriage? What is the challenge for our young couple here? Well if we read this letter that the couple is quoting from, we will realise that the Oneness of a marriage is for life. Christ claims His bride the church for all eternity – and the great promise of the Bible is that He will never let her go, no matter what she does to Him, that is what He has promised. And so wanting to imitate that, Clarence and Joanne want to have a marriage that is truly based on the vows, the promises that they are to love one another – whether in sickness or in health, whether in times of plenty or hardship, whether Clarence loses his British accent or Joanne puts on a few more pounds if she eventually gets pregnant (God-willing). They are to never let each other go no matter what.
Now in today’s culture that sounds like some romantic ideal – but that is what it really is the romantic ideal – which you Clarence and Joanne are called to carry out. You are not saying to each other, ‘with this ring I thee wed’ until we have some irreconcilable differences. No, you are about to be locked in, bound to one another till you die – and that is good news, not a threat- but good news. Because it is in your oneness, your union to one another – that you will more and more become the persons that God wants you to be. Here is my challenge to you, never ever consider even for one second, that this relationship has a possibility of ending before one of you dies – and then you will find, that through the struggles, arguments, disagreements – that nothing is irreconcilable, you will learn to forgive, you will learn to love, you will learn to change, you will be transformed into people that can love in a way you never thought you could do before – as nice as both of you are right now. You are One Flesh, no longer two individuals.
You are no longer entitled to live separate lives from today onwards. In some sense, you must die to your individual selves – you cannot, from this day onwards have your own individual plans, goals, dreams, ideals... no now you cannot live the Clarence Ding life, or the Joanne Lee life, but now you must discern and ask of the Lord – what is the Mr and Mrs (or Doctor) Ding life that He calls you to live. The more you try to keep your individual selves alive, the more this marriage will feel a burden to both of you – the more you learn to put that old life to death and accept that there is a new life to live in a new family, the more you will have greater joy in and with one another.
Clarence knows what this means in a very real way already. You see as I was saying earlier, these verses made a profound impact over Clarence’s life many years ago when he and I were doing some Bible study on this letter to the Ephesians. He realised that as a Christian, his life is no longer supposed to be about him, but about Christ, and that would affect every area of his life – and most importantly would profoundly affect his relationships – including the one he had with Joanne when they had just started to go out. In his own words he said ‘I realised it wasn’t just all about me’, and ‘relationships were not something people get into just because of what they could get out of it’- the Christian life is to reflect Christ and His great wedding plan, those verses ‘stayed with him ever since’. You see in they spent a lot of time in their early relationship being in different countries, and by the 3rd year, things got even more difficult – Clarence was doing well in his law studies, and prospects in London were looking good, and he absolutely loved living there – I know this first hand – after all – listen to his accent, and maybe during the wedding dinner they’ll show you his old extremely British ‘mullet’ hairstyle. It was his dream to remain in London, however Joanne had a long term bond to repay to the Singapore government – she wasn’t going anywhere. The choice came down very hard – to pursue his individual dreams, or to have a new life with someone else who loved him. After much prayer and incessant pestering from guys like me and some of his groomsmen, some good old fashioned positive Christian peer pressure – he finally made the obvious choice – to give up London, for the one he loved – because of what he had learned from Christ in these very verses. Isn’t that what romantic idealism is all about – thank you Jesus! But there are many more hard decisions for the both of you to make as you embark on this life together... and you’ll need to keep turning to Jesus’ Word again and again to help you keep making those ‘right decisions’.
Yet this does not mean that you are to lose yourselves in each other – to merge together like some amorphous blob – some sort of Clar-anne Ding-Lee. No, you are to die to yourselves, but only to become who you were always meant to be. As Jesus says as He proposes to us, He said if we lose our lives in Him, we will gain or find our lives in Him. And similarly, you will find out more about who you are and what it is that God has called you to do, the more you begin to live this One flesh life together.
Neither does it mean that one of you should be lesser than the other. No Christ has called us all to be equals in Him – He has told you both that you are loved by God equally, and are both children of your heavenly Father. Yet, this kind of equality is not like some sort of strange democracy. Yes, you are one, you are equal, but there are distinct roles for you to play in this union, this oneness. As we see in those verses, 22 and 25, Wives you are to submit to your husbands, and Husbands you are to love your wives – but like Christ and the church. That is how you will be truly One.
Clarence, you are called to love Joanne – that is to lead her by serving her – as Christ showed us as He washed His followers’ feet. You will continuously be tempted to overpower her, either by your strength or intellect or emotional resolve and make her feel like she doesn’t deserve your love, so she has to earn it. She may even give in to that, and being demure and patient, feed in to those temptations – don’t let her. Don’t ever let her feel she needs to earn your love. You are to love her no matter what, never threaten her that you will let her go. You are to make her completely secure in the decision she is now making in front of all of us. And you will need to learn how to do that one day at a time – with God’s guidance, and the help of every Christian brother and sister right here.
Joanne, you are called to submit to Clarence – that is your role – he is about to be your husband. You are to let him be the head of the family. And that is so hard to do. You are equal to him, yet you allow him to lead, to serve you. You need to trust that every decision he makes now is for your true benefit – even when you disagree with him. That is what you will need help to learn, again, one day at a time. Let me tell you a secret, the more you trust him, the more he will acknowledge his leadership and take his responsibility more seriously – because He loves Jesus. You will be tempted to prove yourself to him, but all this will do is tempt him to slacken in his love for you. Don’t let him, give yourself to him whole-heartedly – and he will become the lover God calls him to be.
Clarence and Joanne, you have a high calling – the calling of marriage that will publically display that great cosmic Wedding.
So as I conclude, could you allow me to remind you once again of two of things I’ve already mentioned briefly. First of all, as we said, all kinds of situations will arise in your union, including difficult times, and you will not know how to deal with them – it’s not natural. That is why you must keep close to God through His Word, through Christ and the Holy Spirit who will affirm His Words in your spirit. And don’t just speak His Word to each other in those situations, sing His Word together – It’s no secret that the couple are highly musically inclined – I bet some of you don’t know Clarence is a qualified bagpipe player – he’s not only in love with the English, but the Scottish too – let music with God’s Word be a foundational part of your time that you spend with one another.
The second reminder is again - please discern the will of the Lord for your family. Previously you asked what God wanted you to do with your lives as individuals, now you must ask Him again, what He wants you to do as a family. He will have a new calling for your 3rd way of life. As you work in your separate jobs, you are no longer working for your own bank accounts. Work together for a common purpose, a common mission – God will tell you what that is, and it will involve both of you, as well as any children God may bless you with. Spend much time asking Him – I’m pleading with you don’t just jump back into life as it was before this day – let this wedding day be remembered – let it make a more profound impact on your lives than simply living under one roof.
Clarence and Joanne, as you say your vows, as you are enjoying today’s unrivalled attention, as you enter into each other’s lives and bodies, as you go for your honeymoon together, please enjoy each other’s presence as thoroughly as you know how. As you begin to understand this oneness of Christ and His Bride reflected in your own union; as you begin to die to yourselves, and to put the other’s needs greater than your own; as you begin to learn to love each other in service and to submit to one another as to Christ, as you begin to find out and fulfil your common mission together to the rest of the world – you will be filled with joy in the Spirit of God. Your marriage will generate light for all to see.
As you sense the joy of each other, you will begin to look forward to the joy of the eternal honeymoon, where you will be with all the saints and Christ forever and ever in the great family home He is right now, at this very moment preparing for all those who trust in Him. And this is true for all of us here today, witnesses to this event – we are here because we have been called to keep them loving each other, and as we do so we ourselves will find that we too are looking forward to our great wedding day with Christ.
What a great and profound mystery a marriage is – let us all pray and give thanks to the Living God, who calls us all to come to His wonderful loving Son, even this day.