Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage* (Colossians 3) transports me to a premarital counseling session Kim and I had with one of the four, yes four different ministers who shared pearls of matrimonial wisdom with us before we got hitched. This one was with my soon-to-be father-in-law, who would be one of the officiants for the wedding. Ed led us through the wording of the vows, talked about the meaning of each line, and he read the scripture with us that would be used in the service, Colossians 3:12-17. I still remember some of what he said in the homily as he riffed on that text. It made such an impression that I have used the passage in just about every one of the 31 wedding services where I have been officiant or co-officiant. The counsel in this passage seems applicable to any couple taking the risk of becoming one flesh. There have certainly been a wide diversity of couples I’ve helped tie the knot for, for whom the Colossian advice of patient and gentle and gracious love made sense – my first involved a groom who showed up drunk. Then there was the bride who was great with child and felt a little queasy, another was a mom of a newborn who got hungry and caused us to pause the service for a few minutes so she could nurse. There have been older couples past child-bearing years finding new companionship after grieving the loss of first spouses. There have been blended families emerging from second and third tries at til death do us part. There have been Baptist-Catholic unions and lesbian unions and bi-racial unions. The only request I refused was from a woman who wanted me to perform a bedside wedding at the hospital for her and her supposed fiancé, a man who had been out of it for quite a number of weeks. Since he couldn’t verify that he wanted the pronouncement of husband and wife to happen, I left her to find someone else to help her get hold of his property. As I counted it up today, I think the couples I did marry are faring better than average – I know of only 7 of the 31 who aren’t still together.
Paul was listening to his better angels when he penned those middle verses of this third chapter in his letter to the Colossian church. The words hold timeless truths and beautiful images – such as being clothed with compassion and kindness, humility and gentleness and patience. He recognized that humans would err and hurt one another, so he urged what my father-in-law called a stubborn love, bearing with each other in a spirit of forgiveness. Our lives together would be like a quilt, my father-in-law said, and the thread connecting all the pieces together would be love. Peace would always be available to rule our hearts, and we should always be willing to teach one another and learn from one another, modeling a mutuality of spirit. Finally, we were to sing and play music together, a joyful admonition from Paul and from Ed Christman that Kim and I have gladly followed all these 26 years.
Ed made sure that we stopped at verse 17. Beginning with the next verse, Paul’s better angels were abandoned as he assumed his lifelong identity as Pharisee, and started laying down a hierarchy of power and authority. Wives, submit to your husbands. I don’t think Ed Christman would have used that text for any wedding, much less the wedding of his youngest daughter, independent and bright and gifted beyond description, who was pledging her love to this rough-around-the-edges mountaineer. Passive submission and blind obedience held no more place in the ethic of love than what came next in Paul’s Phariseical advice to the church – slaves obey your masters in everything. Paul evidently had what my grandmother used to call “a bad case of the cain’t help its.” He had been flowing right along, writing pearls of wisdom, including a line about how the very concept of slavery has no place in God’s kingdom, and then he drifted back as was his habit into a morality mode, laying down a set of culturally-bound prescriptions that put everyone in their place. One of the important tasks of “rightly dividing the Word of Truth” is to be able to divide the phenomenal grace-laden words that call us into the mysteries of faith from the Phariseical law-laden words that call us into a culturally bound morality and hierarchy of power. Nowhere in scripture is the division of the Word of Truth more evident than here in this chapter. Thank goodness for Paul’s better angels, and the inspiring words of Truth that call us to a Love that binds us together in perfect unity. It’s a love, a kindness and gentleness and humility, that works for every couple seeking to be clothed with compassion and united in love – whether it’s Jew and Gentile, Baptist and Catholic, widowed, divorced, blended, gay, straight – the peace of Christ can rule in all their hearts, and they can all experience the wonderful and mysterious mutuality of one flesh, by the grace of God.
How about you? Where does this Pastoral Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.