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Fr Ray Hemingray has shared his thought for today, Sunday 25th July 2021.

‘Marriage’

In December 2000, the Daily Mail reported that at the marriage of the singer Madonna and the film producer Guy Ritchie at Skibo Castle in Scotland the couple were given a rather unusual gift by the Minister, the Rev. Susan Brown – a twin-pack of toilet paper! The minister explained: “There are two rolls together, just like the couple. And the toilet paper is soft, gentle, long and strong – which is what I hope their marriage will be”. Unfortunately, the marriage ended in 2008, when Madonna filed for divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. (And incidentally, Ritchie received a settlement of over £50m!) Sadly, not all marriages are a success, but we should still take them seriously.

I can well recall in 1969 walking into the office of the senior partner at the firm of solicitors in Mansfield, where I was an articled clerk, to let him know that I was going to get married. He was a solicitor of ‘the old school’. His room was rather dim and Dickensian, and he would sit there winter and summer in a three-piece tweed suit, at an old leather-topped mahogany desk, poring over papers and puffing on his pipe. He was a man of few words, and he always pondered on his thoughts and words before speaking them. When I told him I was planning to be married, he carried on looking at his papers for what seemed like a whole minute and then, without looking up, said, “It’s a serious business.” No more. So I left him to get on with his papers. But of course he was right.

The Preface to the Church of England’s marriage service makes it clear that marriage is a serious business:

‘Marriage is a sign of unity and loyalty
which all should uphold and honour.
It enriches society and strengthens community.
No one should enter into it lightly or selfishly
but reverently and responsibly in the sight of almighty God.’

As a mark of the serious nature of marriage, a couple make solemn vows to each other and ‘declare their marriage by the joining of hands and by the giving and receiving of rings’. But it doesn’t stop there. Whilst their hands bearing their rings are joined, we then traditionally have ‘the tying of the knot’, where the priest wraps his or her stole around the hands of the couple and makes a public declaration: ‘Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder.’

In a Hindu marriage ceremony, the bridegroom knots a ribbon around the bride’s neck. Before the knot is tied, the bride’s father can refuse consent, but once the knot is tied, the marriage is indissoluble. The ancient Carthaginians tied the thumbs of the couple with a leather lace. A knot also featured in ancient Roman wedding rites. It was called the ‘nodus Herculaneus’ – the knot of Hercules. The bride wore a white tunic and a cord belt tied with a special knot, which only the groom could loosen.

All these symbolic acts emphasise that, when two individuals marry, they are then no longer two individual people but parts of one single couple. In St. Mark’s Gospel, Chapter 10, Jesus says:

“But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female’. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (New Revised Standard Version of the Bible)

I have found a rather nice quotation about two working as one from an 18th century clergyman, Sydney Smith, who said:

“Marriage resembles a pair of shears, so joined that they cannot be separated; often moving in opposite directions, yet always punishing anyone who comes between them.”

Thinking about the metaphor of the shears, those of us who are married need to make sure that our marriages are always sharp and strong. If we neglect our shears, they may become rusty and fail to work properly. Likewise, no party to a marriage should neglect or take the other for granted. Like the blades of the shears, both parties need to work together on a marriage to make it a success. (Try working shears with one hand!)

So, for a successful marriage, couples need to work together, accept each other for what they are; not always seeking idealised perfection, but accepting each other’s faults and imperfections; saying “Sorry”, when they need to; saying “I forgive you”, when they need to; and saying “I love you” every day.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian, who was hanged by the Nazis, summed it up like this:

“In a word, live together in the forgiveness of your sins, for without it no human fellowship, least of all a marriage, can survive. Don’t insist on your rights, don’t blame each other, don’t judge or condemn each other, don’t find fault with each other, but accept each other as you are, and forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts…”

We are now out of the restrictions imposed as a result of the Covid pandemic, which resulted in many couples having to postpone weddings planned for last year or early this year. We are getting back to weddings with churches full of people celebrating, singing, and praying for those who are finally able to ‘tie the knot’. Let us encourage all those we know who are preparing to be married this year and give them all the support we can, not only on their wedding days, but in the years to come.

Fr. Ray