“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."
We read these words from the Gospel of Matthew yesterday in church - proclaimed them in the midst of the people and answered, 'Praise to you, Lord Christ.' I was in the congregation with my husband while this was happening, a rare Sunday that I was not booked to be the priest at another place, and enjoying a lovely chance to worship with my family. He and I held hands as those words wafted over us, and squeezed a little tighter when it got to this part. We have both been married, and divorced, before marrying each other.
I know this Bible passage has caused so much grief for divorced people for centuries, and it has shaped the way the church has welcomed them, or not. The passage has also caused me grief, and my husband, because we both take our Christian discipleship very seriously. We each married the first time with the best intentions and devotion to keeping the vows we made. And we both ended up breaking them when our marriages ended.
As hard as these words from Jesus are, I take them directly to heart. I know that divorce is a sin. No matter the reasons for my own failed marriage, the fact is I vowed to God that I would never break that covenant and I did. I turned away from God's love and the love of the person I was bound to. I know this is wrong.
But I know something else, too: that these words from Matthew come from a passage where Jesus is reminding us that we are all sinners, and that recognizing this ultimately leads to our salvation. Because while our sin is no small thing, when we confess our sins we are forgiven, redeemed and restored in our relationship with God. Nothing will cause God to abandon us, not any way that we fail. This is the Christian story, and it is a big thing. The biggest, as far as I am concerned.
So yes, I have committed the sin of divorce, and I have also walked through the process of confession, reconciliation, and restoration with my former spouse, my community and God. And along the way I met my husband, who has walked his own similar path. And together we have committed ourselves to a new life and love - two people who know we are broken, yet saved. And because of this, we live in hope, and more happiness than we have ever known before.
As we left the church yesterday, my husband and I briefly greeted his former wife and her husband, who are also members of the community. Reconciliation and redemption comes in all forms, and we are grateful to be part of a life of faith that has room for us all, regardless of the ways we have failed, and supports us as we grow.
Tomorrow is Valentine's Day, and beyond all the sweet, sometimes sappy ways we celebrate love, I remain grateful that the way I have found its true meaning is by recognizing how fragile it is, and how fragile we all are. I am not proud or happy to be a divorced person, but underneath my regret is a sense of joy. Despite my many mistakes, I am always welcomed home into the arms of God. This will always be my first love.