Well, we’re finally here. The day has finally arrived – it seems so long ago that Steve first came to me and told me he had met a young woman in KL and that they had decided to get married. Today is a day that has taken so much planning – I don’t just mean the dress and the decorations and the ceremony though everything seems to have come together wonderfully – I have been privileged to have had a special insight into how carefully and how lovingly you have nurtured your relationship over the last year and a half, how much care you have taken not only of one another but of your families here and in Kuala Lumpur, the way in which each of you have honoured and learned to understand each other’s roots, the love you have both showed to Hannah and Bethany as together you have all explored what it means for you to be a family.
It’s been what we modern men and women call a long-distance relationship – the sort of relationship that telephone companies and airlines love. Not only have you had to learn the nuances and the unique beauty of each other’s culture and language, but you’ve had to do it at a distance, learning patience, growing in tolerance, learning the precious art of communication … treasuring the times you’ve been able to be together, and learning how to sustain one another during the long months you’ve been apart.
It’s been a time in which the strength of your love has been tested, a time in which you have built a dream together that you know is going to last you a lifetime, and a time in which you have knit together an extended family that spans two continents, two languages and two cultures. Even your wedding ceremony today is in a sense part of a larger ceremony that began in
When we were planning today’s ceremony, we searched around for just the right reading from the Bible. Eventually I came across these few verses from the rather odd book in the Old Testament called Ecclesiastes, which means ‘the Preacher’. The Preacher goes to great lengths to look beneath the surface of life, to try to find what really matters. And he concludes that a whole lot of what human beings take very seriously doesn’t really matter that much, when it comes down to it. The Preacher tells us that a lot of what we spend our time and effort on is just vanity, just smoke and mirrors, just illusion. It’s a world-weary kind of book – don’t get into The Preacher if you need cheering up. But here is something that The Preacher does take seriously, and that is that it’s better to have a partner than to be by yourself.
And he does it with humour. How are you going to keep warm at night, The Preacher asks us, unless you’ve got someone to snuggle up to? I guess this was in the days before electric blankets. You know, we live in an extremely individualistic society – the world we live in is competitive and often not very friendly – without relationships in which we can both give and receive unconditional love then we human beings just don’t flourish. The whole, as the saying goes, is bigger than the sum of its parts. The love that you give each other, your knowledge of each other’s strengths and weaknesses, your encouragement of each other, is what will allow each of you to grow into your full potential. I think that’s the same sort of idea you find in Genesis, in the first book of the Bible, in chapter two where we read the story about how out of the one human creature God made both man and woman. The whole idea is that we are completed in one another, we need one another to be whole and complete.
But then the Preacher adds something else, he’s still talking about the strength of human relationships, and he says, ‘a threefold cord is not easily broken’. You know the strength of a piece of rope comes from it’s being twisted and plaited – two strands are strong, but three strands woven together are even stronger. Well, Kuan and Steve are two strands, and it’s good to know they’re going to keep each other warm at night – but what’s the third strand? The Preacher doesn’t say – I suspect he just likes tossing off mysterious little proverbs – but the whole point I think is this – that the strength of two becomes creative and productive when it gets focussed on something else, something that’s both the outcome of their love for each other and the force behind it. For a start, we know that one fairly common side effect of women and men falling in love is that children get born. Now I haven’t asked Kuan and Steve what their plans are here, but you know it just might happen – and when a family grows to include children I think the love in that family gains another dimension, like a three-strand rope – so I don’t know about the rest of you but I personally wish for Steve and Kuan – and for Bethany and Hannah – the wet and smelly joys of children.
But I think there’s also another interpretation we can put on the three-strand rope of marriage, and it’s this – that in marriage you’re not just two individuals, because the God who made you and who loves you has brought you together. The love that you share with each other is part and parcel of the love that God surrounds each one of us with – I would even suggest that when human beings give themselves to each other in love then we become co-creators with God – we have a hand in creating the world that we live in. Your love for each other is at its very strongest when you recognise it as a 3-way partnership – a partnership that’s going to take the very best that each one of you can give, and that is going to grow and give life to everyone around you because God’s love is expressed in you and through the love that you have for each other.
Kuan and Steve, it’s a very great privilege for me to celebrate your marriage today. You’ve each come a long way to get to this day, and I’m very glad to have been a part of that. I wish you every possible blessing and every happiness as together you set out on the journey of the rest of your lives.