As I finish this series on marriage, I want to look at how it relates to other sacramental practices, but to do this, I'm going to use a metaphor. One metaphor that makes sense of the relationship between marriage and the other sacraments is the metaphor to the relationship between Jesus and the church--his bride. So yes, through a marriage metaphor, I'm going to explore one way that marriage relates to other sacramental practices. Slightly awkward. Oh, and this will be a particularly Christian take on marriage, but since I'm moving back into the church with this post, you'll have to let me get away with it.
In any case, we start with Jesus, THE sacrament, whose Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies, and keeps the church in the faith so that when he returns, she will be waiting for him.
Right away, two events come up that can metaphorically relate marriage to the two major sacramental practices of baptism and communion. In baptism, the bride of Christ is prepared for her bridegroom one washing at a time. Each celebration of marriage is part of the wedding day morning preparation as we expectantly get ready to see our beloved.
Communion is sex.
I probably have to explain that one...
In an age where sex and marriage are fairly well separated, it is worth noting that sex is one of the most intimate ways one person can know another, hence the euphemisms of biblical language. I could go on with various sexual innuendos applied to the act of receiving Jesus in communion, but I'll fight that urge for the sake of making the point of intimacy. Until Jesus returns, the most intimate way we can know him is in the community of the washed, gathered by the Spirit, around the bread and the wine.
So one "is not" of the metaphor presents itself, because communion is not the physical intimacy of sex, even with all the consumption innuendos that could be given. Communion is the promise of face-to-face intimacy with Jesus, a foretaste, not the fullness of what is promised, but the promise in its fullness. In some ways, communion is the exchange of vows repeated over and over again, a consistent return to the promises made between bride and groom as they become husband and wife.
Marriage, regardless of the faith involved, can be a place where God's relationship to humanity might be seen. As spouses live in love for one another and--if they have them--their children, even more sacramental practices are brought into play. Confession and forgiveness can be lovingly displayed in any marriage or family. The same can be said for acts of service done because of and in love.
The role of promising in a relationship, be it a marriage, between parent or guardian and child, or between God and creation can all proclaim the love of the God. It should be no wonder that marriage is a primary biblical metaphor for exploring God's relationship to Israel and Jesus' relationship to the church.
Since Jesus is THE sacrament, all our sacramental practices are about God's relationship to creation. The number of sacramental practices--seven, two and a half, one, or an infinite number--becomes, from this perspective, an issue of how a Christian community wants to define itself. Particular practices can be thought of not as right or wrong, but in terms of reflecting the faith of a Christian community, which necessarily varies in time and place.