At my younger daughter’s wedding this summer, the preacher (who happens to be my niece) reflected in her homily on the meaning of covenant, which is at the center of a Christian understanding of marriage.
It was easily, by the way, the best wedding homily I’ve ever heard, and I’m not just saying that because we’re related and because I’m very, very proud to be her uncle, though of course those are also factors.
She described covenant, the relationship God has with his people – and I don’t know if this was scripted or if it just slipped out – as “crazy loyalty.”
God is committed to us, she said, in a way that doesn’t make sense, that defies explanation, and that runs counter to all human expectations. And that, she said, is a model for our own relationships – in particular, for our marriages.
I like that. Crazy loyalty.
But the truth is, we don’t see much of it around us.
I read in a recent Christian Century article that we live in “a world marked by infidelity, each of us debilitated in our capacity to do what we say we will do.”
That’s a strong statement, of course, but the author backs it up with a compelling argument, and he ends by writing that “broken promises add up.” They are so much a part of our lives that we just expect them. We no longer expect to be told the truth. We no longer expect others to believe us when we ourselves make promises.
Which is where the idea of covenant just might be startlingly good news to a world “marked by infidelity.”
Many of us are familiar with contracts. We enter into lots of them in the course of our lives. But contracts are different from covenants. Contracts are made to be broken. They contain escape clauses and expiration dates. Human relationships – the kind of relationships we long for, the kind of relationships that are nurturing and life-giving – cannot be defined by contracts.
Marriages in particular cannot be defined by a contract, not if we expect them to be more than they often are.
If more of us thought of our relationships as covenant relationships, modeled after God’s own covenant relationship with his people … why, who knows how our lives might change?
When I think of the promises I’ve made in my life – to my wife, to my family, to my church, to my community, to my country – I realize that all of them have been inspired by crazy loyalty. I’m in these relationships not because they feel just right – often they do, but not always. I’m in them because I’ve been inspired to live differently, to promise differently, to act in a way that for many would be just plain crazy.
I’m in these relationships because of the way God has been in a relationship with me.