Earlier this week, a middle-aged couple asked me to pray for them. Specifically, they wanted a prayer for their marriage “to be a sacrament.” I could tell they were Catholic because in the Catholic Church, holy matrimony is considered a sacrament. In the Episcopal Church, holy matrimony is considered a sacramental rite. The difference is a meaningful one, but not for the purposes of this spiritual reflection. Both sacraments and sacramental rites are understood to be outward signs of God’s grace in the lives of those who partake in them.
The sacramental nature of marriage is captured in the following prayer offered for a couple during their wedding: “Make their life together a sign of Christ’s love to this sinful and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair. Amen.” (BCP, p. 429). So, that’s exactly what I prayed for this Catholic couple who had brought me one of the most inspiring prayer requests I’ve ever heard.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, some couples can be intimidated by this prayer. In a pre-marital counseling session, I once had a bride-to-be respond, “Say what? I can’t take on healing the world through my marriage. That’s crazy.” Well, that’s not exactly what this prayer is about.
It’s about the institution of marriage as an archetypal relationship of complete self-giving. Self-giving love and commitment and forgiveness that heals and overcomes the brokenness of sin. In other words, marriage is a sign of the very things Jesus offers to us – things that we are supposed to offer one another. The couple who had me pray for their marriage to be a sacrament wanted a prayer that they and their marriage would live up to this sign. They wanted their relationship to be a means, or channel, of God’s grace that would be a blessing to them and to others.
We can say the same thing about the institution of family as well as the institution of the church. What is our purpose? To make our life together a sign of Christ’s love to this sinful and broken world. It all starts with relationship and how we treat one another. It starts with our shared life in this place. As we like to say about education and moral development, “It starts at home.”
In a few short weeks, we will have Homecoming Sunday on September 11. I hope you will save the date to celebrate our common life in Christ through an especially uplifting time in worship followed by brunch in the Assembly Hall. Fittingly, we’ll recognize new members who have decided to make Incarnation their church home.
We are a people united by God in Christ, seeking to love the Lord our God with heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is a good time to embrace the sacramentality of our faith community. And it’s always a good time to pray:
“God, make the Church of the Incarnation a sign of Christ’s love to this sinful and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair. Amen.”