Christian Marriage and a History of Bones

Notes. Some thoughts are mine, some are verbatim from Ephraim. Source: here.

Our modern context: Marriage is about desire – we live together if we want to. We exist in a vacuum. Co-habitation is for feeling good and it’s for the “us” in the relationship only.

Marriage being about desire is fairly distant from what Christian history has taught and not fundamentally what marriage in Scripture is about.

We are creatures of God. And God is our creator. This is the source of Jewish and Christian hope. Because he is our creator, he knows us better than we could ever possibly know ourselves. And even though our experiences and cultures are different, we have a basis to listen to each other if we are all made in the image of God. The scriptures tell us we are connected, descendants of Adam and Eve (this is not a literal claim or comment on evolution); it is true in a divine sense. Whether we’re married or not. Whether we’re in a happy marriage or not.

We must learn what it means to be created in flesh and bone by God.

When Ephraim went to the arctic in May, he learned from the Inuit that they have a great respect for bones. Bones of whales or bones of caribou, etc. They have very careful practices for the bones of animals they hunt, and of course, human bones, too. Many cultures have similar beliefs.

In genesis, Adam is made from earth, but Eve is made from the bone of Adam.

“You are bone of my bones.” Adam says to her.

Man and woman are joined together, according to this story, by their bones. To be a human being is to be related through our bones to our mother and fathers, and to those who come after us. Through our bones. Why?

[Makes me think that “bones” is like the ancient equivalent of DNA…]

Bones are taken to symbolically represent life in a way that is similar to blood. Saying something like, I feel it “in my bones” was to akin to the very centre of your life, the core or source of your being. Many believed the soul resided in the bones.

Many North American indigenous people appreciate this in a way we have forgotten. They care for the bones of their ancestors, and see them as connected to the land that God has placed them in. Israel felt the same way; this is a traditional scriptural understanding.

When Joseph dies in Egypt, his descendants carried his bones to the promise land.

Bones represent the created life that God gave us in Adam and Eve and passed down. The resurrection is about life returning to the bones.

Ezekiel sees a vision of a valley of dry bones which God’s spirit revives. “…and the bones came together, bone to his bone.”

Jesus’ bones are preserved – they typically break the bones of the crucified, but Jesus’ bones are not broken. So he can pass on life to us through his bones.

In baptism, we are made a part of Jesus’ body: “For we are parts of his body—of his flesh and of his bones.” The body of Christ a.k.a. the church is explicitly described as part of his bones – the life – of Jesus.

The Bible in Matthew and Luke presents Jesus as located within a genealogy. That’s how Matt. 1:1 begins… etc. In Christian history the genealogy was celebrated (through things like a Jesse Tree) tracing the life through the generations all the way back to Adam.

This is a story of hope, a story of family, a story of generations and life. We are to trace our generation to Jesus.

Ephraim grew up in Berkeley in the 60s. His dad was a prof at Berkeley. The Vietnam war was happening. Riots. Teargas. The National Guard was called out. At first it was very exciting. You’d run around with friends. It was crazy. People got hurt. But I also realized young people were growing disillusioned with their elders and institutions, and anything associated with the past.

… (I won’t share this part of his story – it’s his story to tell. I recommend you listen to it because it is very moving.)

Two things: First, I’ve had to face the fact that when we turn away from our createdness, when we turn away from flesh of my flesh and bone of my bones, our families and each other, this reality of being creatures of God, we turn towards darkness, emptiness.

My Christian vocation is turning towards the bones of Adam and Eve – my createdness, my creaturelyness, my relationship to a creator as his creation.

Second, I’ve had to face the sorrow of forgetting generations. Of estrangement. Of not knowing where the bones are…

[As someone who does not know my grandparent’s names on my father’s side or have any family that lives locally, a father that has been forgetting due to dementia for the past ten years, I can appreciate this pain of estrangement, this forgetting of life…]

Marriage is connected to this. Forgetting what marriage is about is connected to the sorrow of this forgetfulness of bones.

Burundi (where he served as a priest in the 80s, while he was in his 20s) is a beautiful, farming country. Scripture is central to the life of Christians there, and elders serve as Christian witnesses to the younger. There had been a famous Anglican evangelist who used to walk in bare feet in 1930s through the mountains and jungles there to share the gospel. This man did not go to the most difficult places until he was older, and didn’t feel ready to reach them until his hair was white. He knew that only elders could be trusted with the wisdom of the truth.

The Bishop taught Ephraim about love and courage and openness. He was his mentor. He also understood what a struggle it was to retain wisdom, to receive the wisdom of older generations. Poverty, illness and political violence and civil war attack these things. From 1972 to 2006 almost 1 million people were killed in civil violence. Often pitting families against families, different groups would target young people especially. The Christian church had to find a witness in the midst of a world of orphans and parents with murdered children.

What I learned is that people need families.

It seems obvious but it’s not obvious to people in Canada in 2016. [omgosh yes.]

I learned the sorrow of families and generational pain in Burundi that, while I was a very foreign person in the context, was similar to my own.

I also learned about the redemption of families. It’s what brings new life to people. When families are healed. When brokenness is faced, then hope moves down, to the bones, to the centre of our being.

We are all created by God in the same way. The common hope that God gives us is that Jesus Christ’s goes before us to lead the way. It’s not just about “me and Jesus,” it’s about the human race, entire generations being reconciled to God.

We need to re-embrace the truth of God’s creation of us. Our life – our bones – have been passed on from the first family (Adam and Eve) to Jesus, whose sacrifice welcomes us into his family, his life. That first commandment, “Be fruitful and multiply” has as much to do with grace and redemption and the life of the church…and Jesus…as it does to having children. To talk about marriage, then, we can’t speak in a vacuum of two people, or even a vaccuum of parents and their kids, but within God’s purposes for the human race, from generation to generation. We have to respect our ancestors. To tend to them. Parents, grandparents, elders. Remember, “Honour your father and mother.” Seems obvious and boring, but Jesus repeats this. It’s in the old testament and the new.

(One reason elopement was always viewed as problematic is how it cuts off the couple from the families and community. )

Marriage isn’t something we have to figure out. It’s something we receive, along with the wisdom of elders.

Marriage also has to be understood as a respect for descendants. For the future. There is something we’re missing when we forget the purpose of marriage is to serve the future – it’s not just about us. We teach children not just because we don’t want them to burn themselves on the stove, we want to teach them the responsibility of bones.

Hear oh Israel, you shall the love the lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind…(and what we don’t repeat in the prayer book but should remember) and you shall teach (these words) to your children, and talk about them… (Deuteronomy 6:5ff). 

Scripture and the love of God’s word and Christ is all a part of this. Christ is a teacher, and being married is part of a teaching vocation. No one should have children if they’re not willing to teach. This is a value at the centre of married life.

The church has to understand itself as something bigger than the modern definition of marriage and co-habitation of isolated, individualized couples. The church is generational, the church is a place for families, yes, but it is equally for the single, and celibate, and widowed, and orphaned. The church is the place for the whole community, and marriage’s role in the church is where it can be shared and used for others.

“Who is my mother, and brother, and sister?” – Jesus  (Answer: us.)

What does David do when Saul kills himself? He gather’s his bones and buries him. The descendant of David is the new king, Jesus. Jesus dies. He goes to the tomb – and then his resurrection is a bringing of life both to his body, and all the bones that were ever in that tomb, all the bones that were ever buried, and he brings them back to himself. He lives. Now we can live. His bones are reconciled to God so our bones can be reconciled. Our families can have life, and healing. Resurrection of the body is about redemption, and if it’s about our body it’s about our bones, our generations, our families, our histories being redeemed. However broken we are – his bones redeem our bones. We are bones of his bones, flesh of his flesh.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Harriet Corvair says:

    Marriage as desire is modern?? The BCP says that marriage was instituted by God for the avoidance of fornication …
    Song of Solomon? All about desire.
    Adam and Eve — you’ve chosen one version of the creation story and then imposed a later view on the text. Why is it problematic that marriage is, at least partly, about sex and desire?

    1. Christine says:

      Just saw this. Can’t really respond because this isn’t my idea, but notes from a talk I watched.

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