A few years back, some friends–Boris and Martha–asked me to give the charge at their wedding. To commemorate my own wedding (21 years ago today), here’s part of what I said…
The old wedding ceremony from the Book of Common Prayer says that Christ “adorned and beautified” marriage “with his presence and first miracle that he wrought in Cana of Galilee.” You know that story. The wine had given out, so Jesus turned six big stone pots full of water into wine. A hundred gallons of wine.
When they served it out, the guests were astonished—not because Jesus had turned water into wine (they didn’t know that), but because it was better than the wine the host had served first. The steward marveled, “But thou hast kept the good wine until now.”
Richard Wilbur wrote a poem about that miracle. It was a wedding toast for his son and daughter-in-law, and the two middle stanzas go like this:
It made no earthly sense, except to show
How whatsoever love elects to bless
Brims with a sweet excess
That can without depletion overflow.
Which is to say that what love sees is true,
That the world’s fullness is not made, but found.
Life hungers to abound,
And pour its plenty out for such as you.
In one sense, the miracle at Cana isn’t as outlandish as it seems. God turns water into wine every day. I’m not speaking metaphorically here. I’m speaking as literally as I know how to speak. The rain falls to the earth by God’s grace, and it travels up the vine to plump the grape. And then, by some process that none of us understands, the drop of rain is translated into a drop of wine, that maketh the heart glad.
The miracle at Cana is a picture of God doing what he does all the time. And yet, there’s no mistaking that on that wedding day, the grace of God was multiplied to an extravagant, an almost embarrassing degree. A hundred gallons of good wine! And the deliberate, sometimes slow process by which God blesses was foreshortened into a single, transformative moment.
I heard about a man in Nashville who had the floor of his study covered in Moroccan leather. Can you even imagine that kind of extravagance, that kind of luxury? The very ground the man walks on is Moroccan leather! But it’s no more extravagant than what the two of you are doing. By taking the vows you’re about to take, you’re declaring that the very foundation of your life together is a promise more precious than any Moroccan leather. The ground that you walk on, the roof over your heads, the walls that surround you—the raw material for all of it is a love that is both rich and enriching. It’s an embarrassment of riches.
If you don’t believe that—if that sounds like gross hyperbole—then what are you doing here? Why are you standing here in front of God and everybody, putting all your eggs in this one basket? “Forsaking all others.” Why would you do that, unless you really believed you were moving from glory unto glory—from good water to a hundred gallons of good wine. No, you must believe it.
Martha, Boris, I don’t know what you deserve. You don’t either, by the way. But if marriage has taught me anything, it has taught me how little deserving has to do with it. Love is a kind of grace: the worthiness of its object is never what matters. No, worthiness is a poor basis for love. Rather, the worth of the beloved is revealed in the mere fact of being loved. Ahead of you stretches a whole lifetime of learning what it was that made you love one another. Maybe you think you know already. If you do, you’re the exception.
None of us knows what lies ahead. I don’t know what kind of trouble and heartache lie ahead for me. But I know there’s a balm. And she’s the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning, the last thing I see before I go to sleep at night. That is an astonishing thing to think about. If life offers any richer blessing this side of heaven, I surely don’t know what it is.
By standing here and taking the vows you’re about to take, the two of you are putting yourselves in a position to lay hold of more happiness than you deserve. Not everybody gets that chance. Plenty of people have the chance and they blow it.
So here’s my charge to you: Live in the grace you’ve been given. There’s not much hope for a person who won’t live in the grace he’s been given. “Life hungers to abound / And pour its plenty out for such as you.” But life doesn’t usually force its plenty down your throat. If you would rather have your own way than be happy, life doesn’t mind shrugging its shoulders and saying, “Okay, have it your way.” Martha, Boris, I hope you won’t clutch so tightly to your own agenda, your own idea of the way your life ought to be, that you don’t have a free hand to scoop up the blessings that are being poured at your feet.
Marriage is a state of grace. And it’s a great mystery. And Christ adorned and beautified by his presence and first miracle that he wrought at Cana of Galilee—by turning good water into good wine, that maketh the heart glad.