My wife and I went to the wedding of a former student a few years ago. We’d known the bride ever since she was a fifth grader. I can remember her when she sat in my wife, Becky’s class. We have watched her grow from a girl to a beautiful young woman. And now, we watched her make the most important commitment of her life. But all this sentimental crap has nothing to do with anything except that we went to a wedding.
Whenever I go to a wedding I always sort of relive my own wedding. I really liked our wedding. My wife, Becky, had gone down to Tijuana and bought a beautiful, traditional wedding dress there. It was made of cotton, in white, with beautiful white embroidery. She also bought Méxican wedding dresses with bright, colorful embroidery for each of her bridesmaids. I wore a white guayavera with white pants. Each of my groomsmen wore a different color guayavera with dark slacks. We had beautiful spring flowers– very understated, but lovely, in shades of white and orange, yellow and purple. We had a great wedding, and a great party afterward. There was plenty of champagne and a lot of dancing. Both my sons were groomsmen. I shall always remember that day, the day I made that public commitment to the love of my life.
I’ve seen people get so wrapped up in planning weddings. That is understandable. Weddings are important events. They are, perhaps, the most important events in our lives. But sometimes it seems like the dresses and flowers and arrangements can overshadow the main purpose of the ritual, the public avowal of a commitment of one person to another, not something to be taken lightly. I know it’s fun and cool for people to have different weddings. There are people married on roller coasters and while sky diving. There are people who get married in various costumes. And those things can certainly make the event memorable. But in the end, the event is all about two people forming a unit to face life together.
And that’s a pretty serious thing, or ought to be.
The good news about marriage is that it is not really in as bad shape as most people think. This is because the way the statistics are figured are way off. I know we’ve all heard that most marriages end in divorce. In California, I even heard the statistic of 4 out of 5 marriages ending in divorce. But here is how they determined those figures. The researches took the number of divorces and the number of weddings during the year and determined the ratio of four to five. But the problem with this statistic is that there really is no relationship between the couples divorcing and the couples married.
In other words, it isn’t the couples married that year who are divorcing. The divorces are from couples who were married in various years. The only way to get an accurate statistic involving divorce is to track specific couples married in a given year and see if they stay married, but that would take a long time. So the truth is that a lot more couples manage to stay married than you might think.
Certainly the institution of marriage is as old as civilization itself, even older. Of course, the whole idea of marrying someone out of love is a fairly modern idea. It wasn’t until the 1400s that the idea started to gain any ground at all. Stories like Pyramus and Thisbe, Tristan and Isolde, and Romeo and Juliet were never meant to be love stories. They were meant to warn young people about where romantic love would lead, tragedy and death. Marriage is every bit as much an economic union as a sexual union. Most marriages throughout history have been arranged and in many places in the world they still are. So it’s clear that passionate love is not a requirement to a good marriage. It’s probably more important that husbands and wives be good friends than passionate lovers, at least if you want the marriage to last.
It is the desired hope that marriage will last at least as long as both parties live. In some cultures it is even supposed to last longer. In the Hindu religion there has been a tradition of widows throwing themselves on their husbands funeral pyres, thus sending themselves into eternity to be with their spouses. In ancient Judea, the laws of Moses demanded that if a man were to die, his brother was to marry the wife left behind, assuming he was single, of course. The Jews used to practice polygamy, but at some point, that tradition came to an end, probably due to the influence of Egyptians, I imagine.
The Sadducees tried to trip Jesus up with a question about that law. Remember there were two types of religious officials back then, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The Sadducces were scribes, the priests of the temple. They only accepted the first five books of the scriptures, the ones believed to have been written by Moses. They believed in following the laws exactly. They also did not accept the idea of an afterlife. There was nothing in the scriptures about an after life, so as far as they were concerned, when you died, that was it, lights out, game over. So when Jesus was passing through on his way to Jerusalem, they thought they’d have a little fun with him.
They came up to him and told him a little story (now there’s a switch). They said a certain man with seven brothers died with no children, so his brother had to marry the dead brother’s wife. And then he died. So she married a third brother. And then in turn, each brother married this woman, and each died. I think I would start being suspicious of this woman. Anyway, each of the brothers died. So then, the Sadducees ask which one will be the woman’s husband in the afterlife. This, to them, was a trick question, since they didn’t believe in an afterlife. They were trying to make Jesus look like a fool with the question, sort of like asking a priest, “Hey Fadda, if God is all powerful can He make a rock so big that He Himself can’t lift it, huh Fadda, can he?”
Jesus answers that it’s the people here who marry. In heaven, he says, there is no marriage (I’m sure there’re some folks that will be happy to hear that). And what he’s trying to say is that these guys have no clue to the after ife. They seem to think that the afterlife is just like life here, just longer. I think it’s sort of the way that children think that being an adult is just like being a kid, only taller. Every kid I know wants to be a grown up so they’ll have all that money and can eat as much candy as they want. They don’t seem to understand the concept of bills, responsibility, jobs, etc.
Jesus recognized that the transition from life to death is just another change in our development, like growing up. And who knows if death is the last change? The Bible doesn’t really say. It’s just another change, thats all. I don’t think there’s any way for us to comprehend what a life after this one might entail. I know that when I was eight, had you told me that sex was better than candy, I would have thought you mad. (And if you don’t think sex is better than candy, you’re not doing it right)
In fact, Jesus tells them that the whole idea of death is an illusion. It’s not so much that there’s life after death, but that there’s life after life. In other words, life simply continues. Using the Sadducees’ revered Moses, Jesus tells them, “Moses tells us that God is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. God is the God of the living,” he tells them, “not of the dead.” Therefore, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, all long gone, had to still be living–somewhere. This was Jesus’ answer to those men. In other words, there is an afterlife, but you wouldn’t understand it. There’s no way to know what it’s like.
And this is where the Jews are very smart. Because while so many Christians are concerned with going to heaven, and so many Buddhists and Hindus are concerned with karma and reincarnation, the Jews teach us that we need to live THIS life, and not worry so much about what happens after we die. Let’s face it, there’s nothing we can do about it. Whatever happens after we die, happens, no matter how we feel about it. It’s more important to live this life thinking about how we live here and now than to live with our eyes always on the next world, whatever that might be. Concentrate on living a good life here and the afterlife will take care of itself.
The way some people live is like marrying someone while wondering what their next husband or wife will be like. When you marry, it’s with the idea that it’s forever. There is no next husband or wife. Maybe there’s a heavenly city. Maybe there’s just a transition to another incarnation. Maybe there’s simply becoming a part of the spirit of love and creation, or maybe there’re golden streets and all the pizza and candy you can eat. Who knows? Nobody here, that’s for sure. What all religions agree, and what seems certain to me, is that there is no end to life. Even Science tells us this. Energy cannot be destroyed. Nobody ever dies. Our lives are eternal. They may not be in the way we recognize, or even in a way we would want–right now. But when we get there, I’m sure somehow that it will all make sense. Sex is better than candy, after all, to most adults.
So I hope this young bride whom we saw married has a wonderful life with her husband. And I hope she did not marry him wondering what her next husband would be like. I hope she married him with the idea of having the best marriage in history. And I hope that when we live our lives, it’s not with our minds on what happens after we die, but on having the best life we could ever hope to have, with all the blessings that brings.