The Rev. Charles Hoffacker
At the start of this service, I said that the “bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation.” Shortly after that, we heard the first scripture reading chosen by Elizabeth and Rick for their wedding, a creation story including God’s establishment of marriage.
There are at least two comic moments in this primal narrative. They shine light, not only on the human condition generally, but on living life as married people.
The first of these comes when the Lord God creates the original human being from a pair of elements that could not be more disparate.
The Lord forms a figure out of dirt, soil, earth–that ground we walk on and that we feel between our fingers when we work in a garden. From this humble stuff the Lord God shapes a human figure–like a small child who makes a mud pie. That’s one element, and it seems as ordinary as ordinary can be.
Then the Lord God blows breath into the nostrils of this little mud doll, not just any breath, but his own divine exhalation, and this brings the original human to life, it animates that little figure made of mud.
In the original Hebrew of the Old Testament the same word means both “breath” and “spirit.” So when the Lord blows breath into that little figure, he animates it with his own spirit, his divine life.
This story is not so much a report of history as it is a revelation of truth. We are comic creatures, every one of us, for we are God’s own breath, yet also mud from the ground, a most remarkable amalgamation.
The lives we live bear witness to this. They confront us with things of earth and things of heaven, the ordinary and the sublime, dust and spirit, all of them locked together inextricably in what we call our human experience.
Wisdom consists, not in casting off one or the other, but in gracefully living with them both, finding delight in the combination, and despite apparent evidence to the contrary, knowing that the Lord God never abandons or even despairs about his remarkable project called the human family.
And so this story of our origins can leave us laughing about ourselves. This laughter is potent medicine for what ails us. For we must take ourselves and one another seriously, yes, but at the same time not seriously at all. This is important for the human condition and specifically for living as married people.
The episode of mud and spirit sets the stage for a later comic moment.
Trouble comes to paradise. The Lord God has created a procession of animals and paraded these wonderful creatures in front of the original human. Putting the power of speech to work for the first time, this original human bestows names on each one, like the delighted toddler who blurts out “cat” and “dog” when the family pets appear. But none of these birds and animals make the grade as a partner for the man.
So the Lord God causes the man to fall into a deep sleep, imposes some anesthetic, leaves him snoring. Then with divine stealth he removes from the man’s interior, close by his heart, a single rib, and seals the incision as though it had never been. Then–somehow–he turns that bone into a woman, the very first one.
If out of nothing the Lord makes the universe, worlds upon worlds, is it too much to imagine that from a rib he forms a woman? How this happens we are not told; the process is veiled in secrecy.
But notice where the original matter comes from. The tradition of the rabbis observes that this matter comes not from the man’s head, so that the woman rules over him; not from his feet, so that he rules over her. It is from the man’s center, beside his heart, that this rib bone comes, to remind us of the equality of husband and wife, as well as how close these two are meant to be.
The Lord God brings his glorious handicraft to the man, who is now awake again. What a delight! What a surprise! The man shouts, he whoops, that without him even knowing it, this is the one, the one he’s been waiting for.
Can anyone who has ever been in love fail to understand this?
That particular woman or that particular man enters your field of vision, whether for the first time or the thousandth time, and you recognize now that person as somehow one with you: bone of your bone, flesh of your flesh. Something happens outside your control. You have come out of a deep sleep and awakened to a new world.
This sublime moment of recognition surprises us. What keeps marriage alive is the ability to stay surprised by that other person.
Elizabeth and Rick, it is you who have brought us all here today and pointed us to this passage in Genesis. Consider then what it can mean for you. Consider how this ancient story of origins, this comic tale, shines light upon our human condition and what it means to marry.
First, you must take yourselves seriously, yet not take yourselves seriously. Your life together will repeatedly disclose that you are both mud from the earth and the breath of the holy One.
This is the challenge that all people face, but as a married couple you will face this challenge together, helping one another to enjoy both facets.
May you live this mystery with grace and humor.
May you become ever more adept at this dance as your years increase.
May taking yourselves and each other seriously and taking yourselves and each other lightly always be driven by faith in the God who made you and loves you and has united you in his name.
You must also stay surprised, each of you by the other. There is much that can get in the way of this. Banish these distractions. Keep banishing them. Look on your partner in even ordinary moments with the surprise and delight that animated Adam when, awakened once more, he first saw Eve.
The person you are marrying today is, like every human being, an inexhaustible mystery, so there will be plenty there to surprise and delight you if only you take the trouble to look. You can allow such looking to become for you a holy habit, a regular practice, a source of renewal for you both.
Rick, Elizabeth, here on the birthday of your marriage I ask you to accept a simple gift from me, a handful of plain yet mysterious words. Bring them to life in your relationship even as you might plant seeds in soil and have them flower.
The words are these:
Take yourselves and each other seriously, yet do not take yourselves and each other seriously.
Stay surprised by your partner.
But enough from me. The time has arrived for you to make your vows.
Copyright for this sermon 2008, The Rev. Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission. Fr. Hoffacker is an Episcopal priest and the author of “A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals” (Cowley Publications).