“For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” (Matthew 22:30)
There is a rule of preaching that was drilled into us theological school. Well, actually there were a lot of rules, but specifically the one I am present to today is that of not preaching to active states. In other words we are cautioned against preaching about individuals and specific things that are going on in the lives of our congregation. I do hope that you will understand when, today, I break this rule and make more than one very specific reference to two people.
This past Friday two people, here today, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. Don’t worry David and Margaret, I won’t spend the entire sermon talking about you because I know that that would make you both extremely uncomfortable. I will, however take this opportunity to talk on the subject of the eternity of marriage.
50 years! Wow! For many people 50 years itself seems like an eternity, no matter what you are talking about. And yet, 50 years in comparison to eternity is but a small and insignificant number. To give a little perspective there is in the south of France, about an hour’s drive south of Toulouse a cave called the Grotte du Mas-d’Azil. This cave is not simply a cave but it is a 450 meter tunnel carved by the river Arize through a limestone mountain. The naturally formed tunnel is so wide that not only does the rive run through it but the french have built a 2-lane road through it and also include a walking path along the road. Along the 450 meter walk are positioned markers noting the relative timeline of various world and regional events. The French revolution 220 years ago is just a few meters inside the tunnel. When Charlemagne ruled most of western Europe in the 8th century the tunnel was already there. During the Iron, Bronze and Neolithic Ages (1,000 BC, 3,000 BC and 9,000 BC respectively) the tunnel was there. it even noted that the first humans made it to that region of France roughly 39000 years ago. When they got there they would have seen this very same tunnel, little different than we see it today (excepting the road, visitors centre and cafe, of course). Suddenly my life of 50 years and David and Margaret’s marriage of 50 years don’t seem that long. To be honest with you, after walking this cave I felt quite insignificant. But our lives are not insignificant, even ones that may tragically end early, because we all live after death. Our natural lives are merely preparation for our eternal lives and at sometimes, particularly in marriages we are even given a taste of the heavenly and eternal life to come. And yet many people are entirely ignorant of the heavenly and eternal love to be experienced. This ignorance is due, in large part, to a misunderstanding of the passage we read about marriage in heaven.
The Lord said to the Sadducees: “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” This teaching is found also in two other Gospels. Combined with several statements in the Pauline Epistles, the theologians of most Christian churches have developed their doctrine of the non-eternity of marriage.
Getting it wrong, even for early christians, should not be at all surprising to us. Remember how often the Lord seemed to be telling even His disciples that they just weren’t getting it. That they just were not understanding the full nature of what He was telling them. Think of His words to Thomas; “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). And the disciples belief that they were somehow special; “Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.” But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is on our side. For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” (Mark 9:38-40). And of course we have the incredible story of the disciples arguing over which of them will be the greatest (Luke 22:24-30). Jesus’ message was so far beyond what even the disciples could grasp we should not at all be surprised to learn that the earliest Christian church followers who never even knew Jesus could have been so very wrong on such an essential matter of church teaching.
So great has been the influence of these early teachings concerning marriage, and so blind have the minds of men been to the sight of spiritual truth, that still today there are very few Christian churches whose teachings include the idea that man and woman live in a state of eternal marriage after death. The denial of the eternity of marriage has led to the concept of an existence neither male or female after death. Since it is beyond the scope, experience and reason of the human mind, the attempt to visualise such an existence has in turn led to ethereal and fantastic ideas of the nature of life after death such as angels reclining on pillows of cloud.
And yet, ask most husbands and wives who have and continue to experience the true blessings of a long and strong marriage and they will tell you that they know, intuitively, that there marriage is intended to last to eternity. They will tell you that ‘until death do us part’ is in no way representative of their marriage. The teachings of the New Church, confirming this intuitive knowledge, tell us that there is an influx into the soul from the Lord through heaven which inclines man and woman to a union of soul, mind and body. The 18th century theologian Emanuel Swedenborg called this heavenly marriage ‘conjugial love.’ The source of this conjugial love is from the union of Divine love and wisdom in the Lord, and it resides in the inmost of the human soul. It is above our conscious thought, and it cannot be perverted by us. Consider that, the essential life-giving influx from the Lord can not be perverted by us. It is that which inclines us to having children, and to the protection and preservation of all things which relate directly to conjugial love. Because this influx is with us from the Lord, and is received by us as by no other living creature, it looks to what is eternal. It does not give us the knowledge that we will live after death, nor does it tell us that marriage is an eternal institution. It does, however, incline us to believe when the Word is read, or the truth is otherwise presented, that we do live after death, and that a true love formed between one man and one woman lives on to eternity. This is the source of that perception of the eternity of marriage which has never ceased to appear here and there in all ages.
The Writings explain that what is referred to by the Lord’s words concerning marriage is the spiritual marriage of good and truth, that union which takes place within a person when he or she shuns evils as sins and desires to follow the dictates of truth. It is the teaching of all Divine revelation that the marriage of good and truth must take place in this world if a person is to be saved; that is, what we come to know intellectually of good and truth must become a part of the way in which we live our lives. Man’s loves are formed essentially in this world, not in the next; and in the degree to which they are formed here on earth so they remain to all eternity. This is what the Lord referred to when He said: “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” They do not marry, and are not given in marriage, because the marriage of good and truth has already taken place in their minds in this world.
Conjugial love is called the fundamental of all human loves because in it all other loves find their expression and use. It is the ultimate of the marriage between the Lord and a person, or between good and truth. It involves all the uses of society, and all the delights that the human heart can know. Because of this it is eternal, and it is the very foundation of the heavens.
Now one last note about the worldly reality marriage. Marriage is not always pretty. Marriage is not always perfect. Marriages are not always entered into for the best of reasons and marriages are not always honoured by one or both parties to a marriage. And some people never marry in this world, for any number of reasons. But this does not mean that we will not still be married in heaven. All those in heaven are married and if they did not find their conjugial partner, their true marriage partner, in this world they will find him or her in the spiritual world. What we must do in this world is to develop our love for marriage and to develop our understanding of the heavenly marriage. A person who understands the marriage of good and truth, progresses equally in his or her understanding of conjugial love. The teachings of the New Church tell us that progress in one is a progress in the other.
The essence of conjugial love is the marriage of good and truth. The one is inseparably within the other, and must remain so if the eternal uses of creation are to be fulfilled. For this reason the Lord provides that all in whom the marriage of good and truth takes place shall enter into the fullness of conjugial love in heaven, and there come into the joy, delights and happiness which are the fruits of its life. What greater comfort, what greater blessing, could the Lord give to the hearts and minds of men and women in His second coming than to reveal to them that true marriage is eternal, to describe the quality of heavenly marriage, to re-establish its holiness, to show forth its beauty, and to promise it to all who seek Him and His heavenly kingdom!
Lessons: Isaiah 62:4-5, Matthew 22:23-33, Conjugial Love 92
* This sermon has been modified from a sermon delivered by Rev. Frederick Schnarr in 1967.