“After the wedding celebration was over, they departed for their honeymoon where they consummated their marriage.” When was the last time you heard that quaint old expression? The idea of consummating a marriage is just one more ancient rite of passage abandoned and forgotten in our postmodern obsession with Here and Now. The fear, indeed the expectation in many quarters, is that most young people have hooked up long before reaching the marriage bed. The only thing left undone is changing the young woman’s name. At least two popular motion pictures have recently explored the fashion of “friends with benefits,” young men and women who don’t aspire to a romantic relationship but simply find it convenient to use each other for sex. What was once the “consummation” or completion of a maturing relationship between a man and a woman has now been reduced to sharing some snack food slightly more significant than popcorn.
The ideal of reserving sexual intimacy for marriage, once considered virtuous in mainstream America, has always been rooted in the Christian Faith. As far back as Adam and Eve, the higher aspiration of sexual intercourse was in “knowing.” The Hebrew text literally explains that Adam knew his wife and she became pregnant, and gave birth to Cain. This explains our use of the Latin word, consummare, which means to sum up or finish. After a man and woman grow to know each other personally, intellectually, and emotionally, they commit to one life together and know each other sexually, each revealing an aspect of self shared with no other human being.
In Isaiah 62:4-5, the prophet promises Jerusalem, “Your new name will be ‘The Bride of God,’ for the Lord delights in you and will claim you as his bride…Then God will rejoice over you as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride.” Imagine a young man caught up in the rapture of his first night with his new bride. Notice that the city of Jerusalem foreshadows the role of the Church, later identified by Christ as his bride. Revelation 21 characterizes the future climax of all human history as the wedding celebration of Christ and his glorious bride, the Church. The consummation of that holy and treasured relationship awaits in Eternity. And with the consummation of the marriage between the Bridegroom and the Bride, everything begins anew; without pain, without tears, without limits.
Prophetically, five decades of sexual liberation have not ushered in that promised New Age where joy is greater, experience is deeper, and human beings are more sacred. Rather, people have become objects for the use of others, and the experience is so shallow that erotic toys, flavored gels, whips and chains, and sex in unusual settings or with multiple partners have all become necessary to enhance a rapidly fading experience. Meanwhile, diamonds are valued because they are so costly to acquire. Movie theater popcorn is appealing because we can’t have it every day. But in 21st Century America, sex is as casual as sneezing and as common as biology.
You’ve no doubt heard the old adage that God can create a mushroom in five days, but he requires 50 years to produce an oak tree. Instant gratification is very 21st Century American, but patient expectation is eternal. Getting into someone’s pants is the highest ambition of our Hook Up culture, but knowing another person mind, body and soul is the ultimate measure of intimacy in the Kingdom of God. That faith-infused variety of intercourse is so much more elevated and more noble than our present day cultural mosh pit for couples that the word “relationship” instantly falls short as inadequate and archaic. Divine love is so pure and unselfish that the lover can sacrifice himself for the one he loves, having never yet experienced consummation. Love that can wait for the ultimate expression to follow in the world to come is the most tireless and powerful love of all.
For centuries, we in the Church attempted to model our human marriages on the divine model. We have emphasized knowing and growing in intellectual intimacy. We have held character in high esteem- growing my own and cultivating the character of my loved one. We have spoken and written fondly of our expectation, looking forward to the time of consummation when the timing of God is working with us. Suddenly and without warning, we seem willing to toss everything timeless and eternal under the bus in order to leap aboard the graffiti-covered subway to relevance.
What the Beatles once sang is still true: All You Need is Love. Tragically, most Americans never find what they need because they have settled for something more common and less delightful. It can’t keep a marriage or a soul alive for long.
Lift up the Cross!