Who are these guys, anyway?
So, I’m one of two billion people and I watched the royal wedding on television. Like everybody else, I found something to cheer about and something to cringe over, and among it all I marvelled that the marriage of a man and a woman should occupy international television coverage for an entire evening. It wasn’t a nail-biting mystery story, after all: whenever we go to a wedding we know how it’s going to turn out at the end. That’s why we usually go only when it concerns people we actually care about.
I guess that’s the point. A lot of people cared about this royal wedding, at least on the day. Admittedly, they cared about a whole variety of angles on it, as could be gauged by all those witless interviews with bystanders wearing hats distorting the Union Jack. Some people loved royalty; some came to watch the horses; some couldn’t resist the crowd. No doubt there were a few who managed some kind of self-projection into a glamorous scene; some of them love pomp and parades — and don’t the English do those well! — and some were just curious to see what was happening next.
Personally, I liked the actual ceremony. We had been through the streets and got into the church, with all its sudden trees; we had witnessed the arrival of the bride’s mother and the groom’s grandmother; we had pondered all the hats whose wearers had to lean sideways to get through a standard doorway; we had seen the uniforms and the dignitaries and the celebrities and found out about the Dress, and we were ready for the real action. And then the Archbishop of Canterbury stepped forward and he said, “We are gathered here today in the presence of God and this congregation to witness the joining of this man and this woman in holy matrimony.”
Wonderful. “This man and this woman.” Not the Duchess of Cambridge nor the Prince of anywhere, never mind the future King of England — simply “this man, and this woman.” Step forward, William and Catherine, and join the human race. Along with everybody else it is your privilege, and your very great responsibility, to be allowed a share in holy matrimony, which you now enter in the presence of God. Also in the presence of not a few witnesses.
So prepare to make some promises of sacrifice. They will be the same promises of sacrifice as those made by millions of other people world-wide: to love, honour, and cherish; to share the sickness and the health; for richer or for poorer (and never mind the cynical comments about those particular possibilities.) And those promises, like everybody else’s, will be kept as long as those who make them remain true, by will and forgiveness and grace, and they will count for nothing when those things are lost. Just like everybody else’s.
I’m a marriage celebrant too and I have to say, if I may be forgiven, that I admired the Archbishop’s style. No frills, no fuss. No re-working the vows in the name of the dreaded “relevance” or for any other reason. Just straight to the essence, “this man and this woman, in the sight of God, to be joined in holy matrimony.” This thing is bigger than both of us.
We can all use this kind of reminder, in marriage and in life. We tend, in this day in the Western world, to a very individual view of things. Nor is a value of the individual a bad thing — Jesus espoused it and without it, we’re on the way to totalitarianism. But it is not the only value, nor is it the highest. The highest value is God, and he commands us to a responsible way of life that knows when to make sacrifices of various kinds: sacrifices for husbands, wives, churches, children, employers and employees, people we like and some we don’t, the nation, the Kingdom and the kid next door. Every one of us may be described as “this man” or “this woman”, and we are all allowed, even called, to share a royal view of life — that is, that we may make sacrifices for those with whom we share this road on earth, in the presence of God.
None of us is greater than any other. None of us is less, either. We are, every man and every woman, in the image of God. It’s a great thing, and it brings a great responsibility.