A Great Mystery: Fourteen Wedding Sermons (Book Review)

Weighing in at just over 100 pages (including the preface), Peter Leithart’s A Great Mystery: Fourteen Wedding Sermons is a book that every Christian couple should receive as a wedding gift.  When I and my wife stood before God and our witnesses to covenant in marriage almost 12 years ago, we were certainly not in any frame of mind to remember the charge given to us.  But that is par for the course.  No one—bride or groom—remembers the sermon delivered by the minister on their own wedding day.  That is to be expected, which is why Leithart’s book scratches where married couples most itch.  We need to be reminded what our wedding and marriage means.  Your wedding day is not supposed to be mysterious because it’s just a blur in the rearview mirror of your marriage.  Rather, it is mysterious because there is something absolutely profound that occurs when a man and woman are joined to one another.  They are transformed into “one flesh” in such a manner that cannot leave all parties involved unchanged.

A great wedding sermon is beautiful, inspiring, instructive, exhortative, creative (how many have you heard that only repeat the ideas of the last one?), eye-opening, sobering, joyful, lovely, and hopeful.  A good sermon is two or three of these.  It takes a master preacher and master theologian to accomplish all of these in a 10-minute homily, but Leithart succeeds admirably.  By my count, 13 of his 14 sermons in this collection are worth reading, pondering, studying, and discussing among friends—and especially with your spouse.

The author challenges our culture’s false ideas and hopes about love and marriage, gently reminding us that they have led to divorce, apathy, and acrimonious relationships that fail to deliver what the biblical vision of marriage promises.  Leithart draws from secular and Christian reflections on the nature and purpose of love in marriage.  It seems his most refreshing insights come from reading in the Eastern Church tradition and those in conversation with theologians who inherited the school of theology from Antioch and Byzantium.  The contributions of our Christian brothers outside the Western tradition enlighten the relationship between marriage and the relationships within the Trinity.  The result is a beautific vision of God through the lens of human marriage, instituted by God for the mutual blessing of man and woman, for the protection of the family, and for reflecting the relation of Christ the bridegroom to his bride the Church.

A Great Mystery is a collection of Leithart’s sermons preached at actual weddings marrying people he actually knows, so each sermon stands on its own.  In fact, Leithart didn’t set out to write a book about wedding sermons.  But after a dozen weddings, he realized that this collection “illuminates the subject [of marriage] from many perspectives, forming a loose, down-to-earth ‘systematic theology of marriage’ that connects marriage with the doctrines of the Trinity, creation, salvation, sacraments, church, eschatology, and more.  The result is a series of enlightening and invigorating exhortations for Christian couples at any stage of their married life.” [from the back cover]  All of this is bumbling praise compared to Leithart’s prose.  He says it best:

Trinity and anthropology; original sin, covenant and call of Abraham; Christology and pneumatology; ecclesiology, sacramental theology, eschatology: they are all there for those who have eyes to see, tightly wound in, with, and under the daily round of a common bed, sex, conception, childbirth, and childrearing, conversation, work, and mutual comfort.  For those with eyes to see, the mystery of marriage is the mystery of the world, and those with such eyes might be able to recognize and avoid the shoals that lead to marital shipwreck, the rocks toward which every cultural trend drives us. [p. xiii]

If your marriage is bland, read this book to renew the flavor.  If your marriage is on the rocks, read this book to bring you and your spouse to repentance for a course correction.  If your marriage is sweet, read this book to turn your gaze to the sweetness of the divine marital vision.  If you are single, read this book to prepare for marriage someday (or if you don’t plan on marrying–to understand God’s intention for marriage).  If you are formerly married and wounded, whether divorced or widowed, read this book for hope and healing in the God who loves his people enough to never leave them, never forsake them, and never fail them.

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