The Future of Marriage
All three Synoptic Gospels report an encounter between Jesus and some resurrection-skeptical Sadducees about the world to come. They posed Him the case of a woman who had married and survived seven husbands. “In the resurrection,” they ask, “whose wife will she be?”
And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.” (Luke 20:34-36)
At the most basic level, Jesus is rejecting the Sadducees’ physicalist understanding of the world. There is, He says, the world of the flesh and the world of the angels. Marriage serves this world by preserving the human race through procreation. The angels, by contrast, have a spiritual nature and are immortal; hence they have no need to marry and reproduce. (I shall say some more about angels in next week’s “Angel Week” posts.)
This saying of Jesus would seem to explain the wedding vow “until we are parted by death” and the custom by which widowed partners, even if divorced, are free to remarry. The marriage covenant is now dissolved. Marriage, it seems, was designed for this age only.
But is this the end of the story?
The Orthodox Church sees this matter differently. The climax of its marriage liturgy is a ceremony in which the priest presents bride and bridegroom with crowns, leads them in a dance around the altar, and then prays:
O God our God, Who was present in Cana of Galilee and blessed the marriage there, bless these Your servants, who, by Your Providence, are joined in the community of marriage. Bless their comings in and their goings out. Replenish their life with all good things. Accept their crowns in Your Kingdom unsoiled and undefiled; and preserve them without offense to the ages of ages.
To the Orthodox, a married couple may be separated by death (or even divorce), but Holy Matrimony remains a Kingdom reality, a sign of the mystery of Christ and the Church. Biblical support for this may be found in St. Paul’s description of the Church as the household of God, the familial inheritance of the saints in light by whom every family (patria) in heaven and on earth is named (Eph 2:19; Col 1:12).
Happy couples may ask: “Will we recognize each other in heaven and recall our marriage?” Unhappy couples, the divorced and singles, may wonder whether they will be left lonely in that scenario. I do not know how our human failures and disappointments will be purged or how our human loves will be transformed in the world to come, but the writer to the Hebrews gives us a glimpse of our welcome to the final wedding feast:
You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Heb 12:22-24)
God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, bless, preserve, and keep you; the Lord mercifully with his favor look upon you, and fill you with all spiritual benediction and grace; that ye may faithfully live together in this life, and in the world to come ye may have life everlasting. Amen.
Nuptial Blessing from Book of Common Prayer (1662)
This concludes the series on “Marriage According to the Book of Common Prayer.”
Devotions for next week will be dedicated to the angels of God, as the Church enters the Michaelmas season, in honor of the archangel Michael.