On May 19th Great Britain’s Prince Harry married American Meghan Markle. As soon as it ended, the TV commentators swooned : “The whole room was filled with happiness.” “It’s enough to make me believe in love again.” It was a joyful occasion. The prince was dashing. The bride radiant in her tiara. But there was also a beautiful subtext woven into the ancient ceremony that may have contributed to inspiring people to want to get married…stay married…even believe in love again.
In today’s cynical hook-up culture, it lifts our spirits to see a bride and groom promise to love and cherish one another till death. While almost three billion people around the world delighted in the beauty of Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan’s marriage ceremony, I wonder how many of the guests and viewers really grasped the deep truths woven into the familiar words.
Lately I’ve been reading Nancy Pearcey’s terrific new book, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality. As I watched the royal wedding ceremony I was struck by how beautifully it illustrated two key aspects of the Biblical worldview of marriage and sexuality that Pearcey discusses in her book.
Marriage is entering into the Life of the Trinity
From the Anglican book of Worship, the Dean of Windsor read,
In the presence of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we have come together to witness the marriage of Henry Charles Albert David and Rachel Meghan, to pray for God’s blessing on them, to share their joy and to celebrate their love.
“In the presence of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit…” When Harry and Megan walked into St. George’s chapel. They walked into a building that physically pointed up to the reality of a God who is transcendent—above and beyond us. A space that reminds us, “Life is not all about you. There is something more grand and beautiful and loving going on…and you are invited to be a part of it.”
Harry and Meghan’s ceremony was grounded in the reality of the Trinity—“three persons so intimately related that they are one,” writes Pearcey. The royal wedding affirmed that at the heart of the Universe is love. Relationship. Intimacy. All that exists flows from that ultimate reality. Marriage is beautiful and meaningful because it invites us into the intimacy of the Trinity, that circle of love that existed before we were born and which lasts forever.
From Pearcey’s Love Thy Body: The Trinity is “a perfect balance of both individuality and relationship.” We are created in God’s image as individuals designed for loving relationship—with God and others. As the Lord our God is one, so husband and wife become one. “Marriage is not something humans may redefine at will. It comes with its own definition as the first community, reflecting the community in the Trinity.”
Marriage is a covenant before God
The Order of Service printed for each wedding guest begins with a Pastoral Introduction also taken from the Anglican book of Common Worship. It informs each guest that:
“[Marriage] is based upon a solemn, public, and life-long covenant between a man and a woman, declared and celebrated in the presence of God and before witnesses (emphasis mine).”
In the Church of England and a Biblical worldview marriage is a covenant rather than a social contract. As Pearcey explains in Love Thy Body, a contract is a “limited exchange of goods and services” where…
“we define the relationship,
we choose the terms,
we choose the conditions of whether we will stay or leave…
…the terms and conditions are not preset by God or moral law or human nature.” If it doesn’t yield the “desired benefits” we can “break it at will.”
Applying this contractual view to marriage, “relationships are not part of human nature as it existed originally. Instead they are secondary, derivative, created by choice…We can redefine them any way we want.”
By contrast, those who witnessed the royal wedding witnessed a celebration of love as the God who created it intended it. He invites us to not simply formalize an emotional attachment by a social contract, but to enter into a covenant in his presence.
In a marriage covenant made before God…
“We do not agree to perform a service, but rather we acquire a status: as a child of God, as husband or wife, as mother or father.
“We do not agree to provide a product; we pledge our very selves, for better or worse.
“A covenant is not limited in duration.” A marriage covenant before God is until death. Why is that so important for a marriage covenant? As Gordon College art professor Bruce Herman wrote in Kelly Kullberg’s and my book Faith and Culture, “At its core, sex is letting your guard down. It’s saying ‘I trust you enough that I don’t have to protect myself in your presence. I can take off my clothes as well as all my pretenses. I can let down the fence with you because I trust you. It’s safe to give myself to you and you belong to me and I to you.’ And this is only possible when there is life-long commitment to honor that gift of self. No one can entrust themselves to another person who has no intention of keeping that trust… Promiscuous sex is a game, a lie, because you can’t possibly mean it: I give myself to you and take it back.”
Pearcey further states that in a covenant “we do not set our own terms: They are already defined. We accept an array of responsibilities and obligations that are prior to our choice, defined by God, expressed in the moral law, and based on human nature as God created it.”
“This whole-person commitment is what we lose when we redefine all relationships as contracts. Our relationships become thin, fragile, self-interested, and easily broken,” writes Pearcey.
Every couple who makes a wedding covenant before God can be sure that they can lean into God’s strength to keep it. They can also count on the loving support and prayers of their family, friends and church.
Glamour magazine declared that “the best moment of the ceremony was when the couple exchanged their vows.” As we read Harry and Meghan’s vows we can see these two deep truths of the Trinity and a life-long covenant before God woven in:
Harry: I, HARRY, take you, MEGHAN, to be my wife, to have and to hold from, this day forward; for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part; according to God’s holy law. In the presence of God I make this vow.
Meghan: I, MEGHAN, take you, HARRY, to be my husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward; for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part; according to God’s holy law. In the presence of God I make this vow.
MEGHAN, I give you this ring as a sign of our marriage. With my body I honour you, all that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you, within the love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
HARRY, I give you this ring as a sign of our marriage. With my body I honour you, all that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you, within the love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Again and again the beauty of a Biblical view of marriage shone through the royal wedding ceremony. Entering into the life and love of the Trinity and making a covenant in the very presence of God to give oneself unreservedly to another till death–these are the commitments that resonate with our deepest longings. That make even cynical TV commentators and fashion mag writers melt a little.
As we toasted the bride and groom that early Saturday morning, we prayed that God would bless their marriage and use it to show them, and the billions who watched, a technicolor picture of how he loves and cherishes us.
(With deep appreciation for the way Nancy Pearcey always takes us down to the level of worldview and hidden assumptions to strengthen our understanding of “Total Truth.”)