In Mark 10:1-16, Jesus discusses marriage and divorce. Does this passage forbid divorce, or did Jesus trump the Law in Matthew 22:39-40, when he offered “Love your neighbor as yourself” as one of the two commandments on which hang the law and the prophets? I don’t know, but I do know that marriages die in our Church despite the best intentions, and divorces result. And when two parishioners divorce, one or both may leave the parish family, sometimes feeling that the Church has failed them, or that they have failed the Church. Can we reconcile divorcing Episcopalians to, and in, the Church?
Bishop Spong described a “Service for the Recognition of the End of a Marriage.” Two people faced each other in pain and grief, surrounded by friends. They prayed Psalm 130 (coincidentally, today’s psalm): “Out of the depths I cry to you, LORD; hear my voice.” They asked each other for forgiveness, and pledged to remain friends. Bishop Spong reported: “. . . it was painful for everyone there. All shared the excruciating pain of human brokenness. The divorced couple wept, and so did every member of that gathered group. Hearts cried out for an easy answer. But this service took place in real life, not in fantasy. The pain could not be removed; it had to be endured and transformed.”
One priest ended such a service with these words: “We affirm you in the new covenant (coincidentally, a phrase from 2 Corinthians 3:6, today’s Epistle) you have made: one that finds you separated but still caring for one another and wishing each other good will. On behalf of the church which blessed your marriage, we now recognize the end of that marriage. We affirm you as single persons among us, and we pledge you our support as you continue to seek God's help and guidance for the new life you have undertaken in faith.”
As one minister remarked on reading of Bishop Spong’s experience, “Now that’s a church.”