The Marriage Sacrament

We don’t fully understand the Lord’s Supper. Yes, there is a lot we do know and understand about it; we know that it is a means of grace by which we are drawn closer together as a body of believers and, more importantly, drawn closer to the Savior whose death is signified in it. We know that the breaking of bread symbolizes the breaking of Christ’s body and the pouring of the wine symbolizes his blood being poured out for us; we know that through the act Christ symbolizes his love for us and the blessings he pours out upon us. And we know that our partaking of the Lord’s Supper is a proclamation of our dependence upon Christ, admitting as we take and eat that we need his blood and righteousness. It is clearly far more than the sum of its parts.

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And yet what we don’t understand so well is how Christ nourishes us through Lord’s Supper. When Christ instituted it he said,

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.

Christ says that just as eating ordinary food nourishes and strengthens our body, so feeding upon Christ, in a figurative sense, will feed our souls. In this act we both symbolize our dependence upon this food and we experience that nourishment. Though we do not quite know how this happens, we know that we receive spiritual strength through it. And certainly just about any Christian can testify to the joy and strength and spiritual refreshment he has received through the Lord’s Supper. We cannot quantify it and yet neither can we (or would we want to) deny it.

Ultimately, though, we celebrate Lord’s Supper out of obedience to the Word of God more than we do out of a firm and exhaustive understanding of exactly what it does in us or through us. Though we do not fully understand it, we do it. Christ does not tell us exactly how it works and all that it accomplishes in us, but still he commands us to participate in it and to do so regularly, as part of the life of the church. And so we obey in grateful obedience.

Last year I spent a fair bit of time thinking and writing about sex, mostly in the context of the Sexual Detox booklet I was writing at the time. As I did so, I found myself beginning to think of sex within marriage as an interesting kind of parallel with Lord’s Supper. Now, before you accuse me of blasphemy, know that I am not equating the two; rather, I am simply drawing out some similarities between them. What I mean to say is, I think it can be helpful to understand sex as a kind of “marriage sacrament.”

We don’t fully understand sex. Yes, there is a lot we do know and understand about it; we know that it is a means of grace within a marriage by which a husband and wife are drawn closer together in a uniquely powerful way. We know that sex is more than mere biology, that in the sexual act there is more than just body parts. Instead, sex is an act that involves the body, the soul, the mind, the emotions. It is far more than the sum of its parts.

Yet what we don’t understand so well is how and to what extent the sexual union between a husband and wife draws them together. We know that a healthy marriage and a healthy sex life are nearly impossible to separate (which is to say that it is difficult to imagine a healthy marriage in which there is an entirely dysfunctional sex life). And so, like the Lord’s Supper, we are often left pursuing sex not because we entirely understand what it is and what it does, but because God commands a husband and wife to have sex and to do so regularly. We trust that he knows the details that remain hidden to us and trust that we ought to be committed to this special act. And so we are to participate in it regularly and joyfully and as means of obedience to him.

Now God has graciously given sexual desire as a means of compelling or encouraging a husband and wife to have sex. And yet any couple can testify that desire rises and wanes, that there are times when sex seems like more work than it is worth or when life just interferes and we find that it has been weeks, months. Here we need to trust that God will reward our obedience in carving out the time and even working deliberately to find the interest. Just as we would be incomplete Christians in an incomplete church if we neglected the Lord’s Supper, letting it get pushed aside by other concerns, in the same way a marriage will be incomplete if a husband and wife neglect this gift of God. We may not understand sex as fully as we would like, we may not really know what it does and how it does it, but we do know that God requires it of us and that he does so for our good. And that ought to be enough. We do not need to understand it in order to receive its benefits.