Saturday, October 10, 2015

Beyond "You and I"

Wedding Mass of Zhihua & Jie Xuan

Readings: Sirach 26:1-4, 13-16; Psalm 39:2, 4, 7-10 R. vv. 8, 9; 1 John 4:7-12; Matthew 5:13-16

Just you and I, sharing our love together.
And I know in time, we’ll build the dreams we treasure.
We’ll be alright. Just you and I.

Zhihua and Jie Xuan, my dear friends, it’s okay if you don’t recognise these words I’ve just spoken. You’ve got to be of a certain age to find them familiar. They come from an old love song from the early 1980s. The song is entitled You and I. And it was, apparently, very popular as a wedding theme song back in the day. One notable feature of the song is the repetition of the words, just you and I. Just you and I, sharing our love together… Just you and I, we can entrust each other…

I mention this song because, even though it may be old. And all but forgotten. The image of marriage that it paints is one that remains very much the norm today. What does marriage look like for many people? Well, it’s quite simple really. It’s all about you and I. Or, to be more grammatical, you and me. The bride and the groom. The husband and the wife. The man and the woman. And, of course, their love for each other. That’s all that matters in a marriage. Or so it seems.

In a sense, this is true. Marriage is about two people coming together as one. And the less interference from others the better. And yet, marriage is also much more. And it is this much more that you, Zhihua and Jie Xuan seem eager to bring to our attention today. Through your wise choice of readings for this Mass.

At first glance, the first reading appears to present to us nothing more than the usual image of marriage. It seems to focus on only two people. The good wife and her husband. Blessed the husband of a good wife… A worthy wife brings joy to her husband… The emphasis only on the benefits that the good wife brings to her husband is, of course, understandable. Given that the reading comes from a society that was very much male-dominated. For our purposes, we could perhaps, just as easily, switch the roles around and say: Blessed the wife of a good husband… A worthy husband brings joy to his wife… But even after we do that, we don’t quite erase the first impression that marriage is only about husband and wife. Or, as the song goes, just you and I.

And yet, such a first impression is really quite inaccurate. For the reading isn’t only about the husband and his wife. It speaks also of how a good wife is a generous gift bestowed upon him who fears the Lord. Again, we can switch the roles and say a good husband is a generous gift bestowed upon her who fears the Lord. But the point is that in this sentence we find reference to Someone other than the couple. Other than just you and I. More than just finding each other. Or giving themselves to one another. The good husband and wife are first of all gifts given to each other by God. It is God who brings them together. It is God who blesses them with each other. As a reward for fearing the Lord. For honouring and living according to the ways of God. For constantly praying and putting into practice those words from the response to the psalm: Here I am, Lord! I come to do your will.

Beyond just you and I, marriage is above all, a gift from above. The second reading goes even further. It tells us that it’s not just husband and wife who are God’s gift to each other. Even the love that they experience for each other is itself pure gift. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. The love between husband and wife has a higher Origin. A Divine Source. Apart from husband and wife. Beyond just you and I. So that, if a couple is to continue loving each other, they must first do whatever it takes to keep on receiving this gift. To keep remaining in close contact with its Source. Through personal prayer, for example. As well as through active involvement in the life of the Christian community.

And that’s not all. Not only does marriage have a definite Divine Origin. You, Zhihua and Jie Xuan, are also eager to remind us that marriage also has a specific goal. An aim that goes beyond husband and wife. Beyond just you and I. Isn’t this why you have chosen this particular gospel passage from the Sermon on the Mount? You are the salt of the earth, says Jesus. You are the light of the world… And not just you, as individuals. But even, and especially, you, as a couple. You, as this new creation. You, as two people joined as one body. The blessing of your union as husband and wife is not just a gift for you yourselves to enjoy. Just you and I. It is also an awesome task for you to perform. A joyful mission for you to fulfil. In the Church. And in the world. By loving each other, with the love that you continually receive from God, you show the world what a meaningful, purposeful, charitable life looks like. A life centred not on self. But on God. Not on ambition. But on service. Not on greed. But on generosity. The same kind of life that we celebrate at this and at every Mass. The life of Christ. Who emptied Himself. To become for us the Bread of Life. And the Cup of Salvation.

This, Zhihua and Jie Xuan, is the image of marriage that you are proposing to us today. This is the kind of life to which you are committing yourselves, as you profess your vows to each other. In the sight of God, and of family and friends. And we can imagine that you are able to do this. Able and willing to recognise and to embrace this Godly view of marriage. Able and willing to dedicate your lives to each other in this way. Only because you yourselves have already experienced something of this kind of love. In your long friendship and courtship. From the rough and tumble of the Judo Club at Raffles Junior College. Through the joys and struggles of keeping up a long-distance relationship. Even when it seemed that all you had to cling to was each other. Even then, it was never really just the two of you. Never just you and I. It was  always, and above all, with and through the loving presence and gentle yet powerful action God. Often working through chosen human instruments. Many of whom, I’m sure, are here, celebrating with us, today. It is God, who helped you to persevere. It is God, who kept you together through thick thin. It is God, who now empowers you with His Spirit. And sends you out to rejoice in, and to bear witness to, the wondrous power of Love.

I’m reminded of another old, and all but forgotten, song. It’s a hymn that we used to sing in church, when I was growing up. It goes like this:

Love it was that made us.
And it was love that saved us.
Love was God’s plan, when He made man.
God’s divine nature is love.
Born of God’s love, we must love Him.
That’s why He made us. To love Him.
But only when we love all men,
Can we partake of God’s love.
But only when we love all men,
Can we partake of God’s love.

Zhihua and Jie Xuan, my dear friends, what must we do to continue living in and out of this Love today?

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