Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sleeping Unto Life

Wedding Mass of Kenneth & Mandy

Readings Genesis 2:18-24; Psalm 103; 1 Peter 3:1-9; Matthew 19:3-6
Picture: cc Raelene Gutierrez

Kenneth and Mandy, my dear friends, do you like to sleep? We all know, of course, that sleep is something that none of us can do without. We’ve probably all experienced, at some time or other, what it feels like to suffer from a lack of sleep.  It feels terrible. Not to mention dangerous. Especially if we fall asleep while driving a car. If we don’t sleep, we can’t function properly.

But what if you had a choice? What if you could decide whether or not to go to sleep? Would you still do it? I’m not sure, But I think that, given a choice, many of us would prefer to stay awake all the time. I think many of us look at sleep as simply a necessary evil. Especially in a place like Singapore. Where everyone is always so busy. Rushing around doing one thing after another. Even if it’s just going shopping. Or meeting friends for coffee. Or surfing the internet. I may be wrong, but I suspect that if we all had a choice, we’d simply stop sleeping. Just so that we could have more time to do the other things we want to do.

And yet, sleep isn’t just a waste of time. It can also be a very creative activity. Have you ever experienced, for example, going to bed with a question you just couldn’t answer? Or a problem you just couldn’t solve? And then waking up with the solution? How does this happen? The experts tell us that this is possible because, although our conscious mind may shut down when we sleep, our unconscious mind remains active. Helping us to arrive at answers and solutions that don’t occur to us while we are awake, because we are distracted by so many other things. In other words, when we sleep, we let our conscious mind get out of the way, so that our unconscious mind can do its work.

It’s a little like what happens in certain medical procedures where, if the patient were awake, he would simply get in the surgeon’s way. So the patient is put to sleep to allow the surgeon to do her work. And, if the operation succeeds, then the patient awakes a changed person. Something new has happened. Sickness has been removed. Health has been restored. And it all happens in sleep.

But perhaps some of us may be starting to wonder what all this has to do with us. So what if sleep can be a very creative activity? What possible relevance might this have for us on this joyous occasion of the coming together of you, Kenneth, and you, Mandy, as husband and wife? The answer to this question is actually to be found in the scripture readings that you, Kenneth and Mandy, have chosen for this celebration.

Quite appropriately, you have chosen readings that help us to answer three key questions concerning marriage. First, what is marriage? Second, who makes marriage? And third, how can we participate? In the gospel reading, Jesus reminds us of something about Christian marriage that is sometimes all too easy to forget. Especially in our world today, where people may sometimes get married with the idea that they are just going to give it a try. The way we may try on a piece of clothing. Or a pair of shoes. Let’s just give it a try. See if it works out. If it does, fine and good. But if it doesn’t, then we can always call it quits.

This may be fine for others. But it is not what we Christians understand marriage to be. For us, marriage is not just a contract, which we can enter into and then break off whenever we feel like it. Rather, marriage is a deep union of two lives in a single love that binds them together as one till death. As Jesus reminds us in the gospel, in a Christian marriage, the husband and the wife are no longer two, but one body.

Which is why, as those here who are already married will be able to testify, although it may be quite a hassle to get married, (there's so much planning involved!), it’s far more difficult to remain married. To live married life the way it is meant to be lived. Not just as two separate people. Each doing his or her own thing. But as a truly married couple. United in a single love. Each person caring for the needs, and looking to the happiness, of the other. And to the children, when they arrive.

This is not easy to do. Thankfully, our readings also remind us of a second thing. Not just what married is, but also who it is that is ultimately responsible for making such a marriage work. Again, as Jesus reminds us in the gospel, it is the creator, who from the beginning made them male and female. So that what God has united, man must not divide. Although marriage requires much effort from the man and the woman, it is ultimately God who makes the marriage. It is God alone who has the power to ensure that the relationship survives and thrives.

Which brings us to the final question. If marriage is truly a deep union till death of two lives in a single love. And if marriage is ultimately the work of God. Then what do the rest of us have to do? How are we to contribute? How are you, Kenneth and Mandy, and the rest of us gathered here, to participate in this work of God that is your married life together? The answer is again to be found in the readings that you have chosen for today. And it is a rather surprising answer.

In the first reading, when God creates the first marriage between the first man and the first woman, notice how Adam makes his contribution. We’re told that the Lord God made the man fall into a deep sleep. And while he slept, he took one of his ribs, and built it into a woman. So, in order for the marriage to come about, Adam contributes a part of his very self. He donates his rib. But he doesn’t do this himself. He allows God to do it. And God does it by first putting Adam to sleep. Strange as it may sound, sisters and brothers, I think this is an important indication to us of how we can participate in God’s work of making a marriage. We need to allow ourselves to be put to sleep.

But don’t be mistaken, sisters and brothers. This sleep that we’re talking about is not any ordinary sleep. It is not the sleep of tiredness, or of indifference, or of neglect. It is not the sleep of laziness, or of boredom, or of depression. It is a very different, very special, kind of sleep. Indeed it is the kind of sleep that celebrate at this and at every Mass. The sleep that Jesus himself experienced. First, when he lay, a helpless and vulnerable baby, in a lowly manger. And then, many years later, when he hung, tortured and dying, on a cruel cross. It is the kind of sleep that we find in our second reading from the first letter of St. Peter. Which tells us how different people are supposed to behave. Wives, we’re told, should be obedient to their husbands. Husbands must always treat their wives with consideration. Respecting them as equals in the eyes of God. And everyone should be sympathetic and compassionate and self-effacing to everyone else.

Sisters and brothers, isn’t it true that we can only behave in this way, when we first allow a certain part of ourselves to be put to sleep? That stubborn part that is concerned only about our own comfort? Isn’t it true that in order for a marriage to work, we must first allow God to put to sleep our selfishness and our egotism. So that we can truly grow in love and care for one another? And this is true not just for you, Kenneth and Mandy, but also for the rest of us. Family and friends. In the days ahead, each one of us here, must be willing to somehow allow our selfishness to be put to sleep. So that we can participate in God’s work of making this marriage. Of joining this couple. Of building this relationship.

Sisters and brothers, even as we gather to celebrate this joyous occasion, how are we being invited to continue allowing God to put each of us to sleep, so that this new marriage may truly arise in all its glory today?

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