Lectionaries have their strengths and weaknesses. On the plus side, they make you read parts of Scripture you might not ever read or preach in church. On the downside, they sometimes skip over parts that someone putting the lectionary together deemed unpleasant or shocking and therefore not suitable for public consumption. Really?
Our Prayer Book (our book of worship) gives suggested Bible readings for special occasions like funerals and ordinations and baptisms. And marriages. Most of the suggested readings for marriage make sense, but one always makes me laugh a bit, even though there is a powerful application in the backstory (even if not so much in the actual text suggested). It’s a reading from the apocryphal book of Tobit.
The text suggested sounds rather innocent and warm: a newly married couple (Tobias and Sara) kneels to pray on their first night together. They thank God for the help marriage gives to each, they declare that they have not acted lustfully toward each other but rather uprightly, and they pray that God would grant them to grow old together. Awww… How sweet.
But the backstory is a kicker. Sara has had seven other suitors and made it to the wedding night with each of them, only to have her lovers killed by a jealous demon. That’s right – a demon. Her dad has dug the graves of the other men and is out back digging Tobias’ grave as the couple is praying. He simply assumes that Tobias will be next. But Tobias has been given helpful guidance by an angel on dealing with the demon, and the prayer is part of that. And what do you know…. Sara and Tobias sleep peacefully through the night.
Okay. So what do you do when a couple settles on sentiment (not knowing the backstory) and wants that reading read at their wedding? Well, you avoid arguing about whether the events described really happened, and you preach the pastoral advice that every couple needs to keep in mind throughout their married life: your marriage will be in the crosshairs of the enemy, so you better be praying for God’s help and protection. Bam!
It’s true. The Bible begins with a marriage and ends with a marriage and everywhere in between makes use of marriage as the primary metaphor to describe God’s relationship with His people. Marriage becomes something of a workshop in which God works to transform the husband and wife by their love for each other, and to draw them into the deeper love that has ever been at the heart of who God is: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
So if marriage is such a powerful picture of what God’s love is like, if it has such potential to change us and make us more godly in our love, then you can bet marriage will be one of the principal targets of the devil’s raging. And that means your marriage if you are a married person, or it will be your marriage if you are planning to get married.
Better get to praying….