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ROOM FOR REPENTANCE
October 3, 2003
 
Friday's eMo is always a meditation on the lectionary texts for the upcoming Sunday. As with all the eMos, preachers and teachers are welcome to borrow, with the usual attribution. No further permission is encessary.

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"Therefore what God has joined together, let no one put asunder."


This is a mixed moment in a wedding: a joyful announcement of the binding togther of two souls -- I follow the old-fashioned custom of bindng the couple's joined hands with my stole -- and a warning: Don't mess with this pair. Our work here today has not been only ours. God has joined these two together.

I have never married a couple who did not intend their union to be lifelong. And yet some of the many couples whose marriages I have blessed have not survived as couples, a pain about which I am regrettably well informed: I never bind a pair of joined hands together and say those words without a powerful repentance for my own failures. Do better than I did, I think, sending that thought as a prayer and a warning. Please be better than I was.

Jesus had it exactly right: it is because of our hardness of heart that there is such a thing as divorce. Our hard hearts rip us asunder, and we bleed from the wound. And sometimes we go right back out and replicate it, insuring that we will bleed again -- and shed other blood -- at some time in the future. It is a sorry business.

An old Episcopal joke: Someone asks an Episcopal priest if he's ever been tempted to divorce his wife. Never, he says. Murder, many times. Divorce, never.

That's a good one. But, like most jokes, it is only funny because it is true. The church has been kinder to our hard hearts in recent decades than it used to be. Many of us remember when divorced people could not remarry in the Church, and could not receive communion if they remarried in a secular ceremony. Some Episcopalians are Episcoplians today because they could not remarry within the Church in which they were raised. It was this text that furnished the basis for that stern canon.

Somenhow, over the years, a pastoral dimension has been added to the singular rigor of the law. Somehow, we now add the probable effect of a canon to our deliberations about whether or not to adopt or jettison it. This softening has seemed regrettable to some. Apostasy, to some. But to those who know of their sinfulness, who have had it revealed to the world in a public way from which it was not possible to hide, it has been lifegiving. The community has not put us out. It has, instead, given us room for repentance. And a chance to make a new life. A better one, this time.
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