I did not plan on watching the Royal Wedding between commoner Kate Middleton and British Crown Prince William but I am very glad to have caught the principal part of the ceremony as I got ready for work that Friday morning. Later that day, I was presented with the usual “Who cares?” from co-workers to which I replied that, even though the union has no political significance in the United States or in the United Kingdom for that matter, it was very worth witnessing on artistic, historic, musical as well as traditional merits.
Wedding aside, I would have loved to have been present in that ancient cathedral if only to hear the Westminster Abbey choir power out notes far more potent than the boom-box urban hits blasting at my car at any given traffic stop in the Washington D.C. area. To see heraldry and the royal banners flapping on the Rolls Royce pacing through the streets of London was a detail that did not go unnoticed. To hear the Archbishop of Canterbury put forward the tenets of the Christian faith in an uncompromising manner and to hear the name of God spoken reverently in a rich English accent moved me considerably. And I was riveted when the bride’s brother recited a passage from Paul’s epistle to the Roman church. It was beautiful, spiritual and traditional all at the same time.
There was one thing I took issue with, a detail I would have overlooked given the huge distraction that the HD version of the pageantry afforded–a detail pointed out repeatedly by Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters as the live coverage was playing out all over the world to an audience of two billion people. The news duo was very, very careful to point out that the bride selectively omitted the instruction to “obey” or to “submit to” (i.e., her husband) in her vows which, according to tradition and the biblical text from Ephesians from which it is drawn, would be part of that recited by the bride on her day of marriage.
In deference to modern thinking, I understand why this would be so important to point out—but I also know that the context by which such obedience is commanded was also omitted. Allow me to put it another way: how would Sawyer and Walters respond if the groom omitted from his vow the exhortation to love his wife as Paul also admonishes in the letter to the church at Ephesus? Would that be a problem?
Immediately after Paul commands couples to submit to one another in the model that we are to submit to Christ and his commands, we read this equally onerous exhortation to the groom:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her … In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself…
The manner in which Christ gave himself up was unto death as a suffering servant. Likewise a husband is commissioned to love and cherish his wife at the expense of his own well being (which includes not just his physical life but his thought life, occupational life and ambitions). Is such a man not worthy of her respect, submission and trust? If not, why is she marrying him?
The stark vision of a woman being subservient to a domineering husband is pathological—but that is not the model Paul is portraying. Far from it, Paul was actually describing something quite progressive for his time. In addition, our modern idea of a marital relationship being 50-50 is just as much a formula for disaster as modern statistics can attest. That sort of ratio is fine for commercial dealings or a legal contract. But marriage is to be a covenant and, consequently, not 50%-50%, but 100%-100%, something Paul referred to as a profound mystery:
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.
Yes one plus one equals one. That is the transcendent calculus of God, the calculus described at several moments in the Royal Wedding ceremony but lost on 99% of the audience including Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters whose track record in relationships and marriages are not anything to brag about or even suggest that the bride’s omission of the vow “to obey” will serve the couple well. It won’t, no more than the omission of the groom’s vow “to love” would have.