Why did I tell only Patrick to “leave and cleave?”
Our daughter Jennifer and Patrick were wed this past weekend. I had the privilege of officiating the ceremony. In accordance with scripture, I told only Patrick to “leave and cleave.” Do brides get a pass? No. Leaving and cleaving simply gets the ball rolling.
“Getting the ball rolling” is an idiom dating back to the late 18th century. Of British origin, it alludes either to the game of bandy (a form of hockey with a small ball serving as a puck) or rugby. In either sport the game begins when someone gets the ball rolling. In marriage, the husband gets the ball rolling by leaving and cleaving.
Marriage dates from eternity past. God the Father, Son, and Spirit decided to expand the circle of love by having the son wed a bride. The plan calls for the son to leave his Father and descend to the earth, clothing himself in human flesh and wedding humanity, cleaving to his bride. God initiates, humanity responds. The nuptial union of divinity and humanity has a mystical dynamic – grace initiates, faith follows.
This union is rather mysterious, so God created an earthly metaphor. He established marriage as the nuptial union of one man and one woman. God fashioned the woman out of Adam, the two met and they made love. Scripture then says: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). What reason? Husbands leave and cleave as a picture of Jesus leaving his father and cleaving to humanity in nuptial union – one flesh. Husbands are pictures of grace. Grace gets the ball rolling – even though the ‘ball’ got banged up.
As Genesis unfolds, Adam and Eve fall into sin. God promises to save them. Marriage motors on as a metaphor, with the couple making love and Eve bearing a son (4:1). Adam and Eve become father and mother. This was predicted before the fall, how a man shall leave his father and his mother. As their boys became men, they would leave parents and cleave to their wives. Grace is leaving as well as cleaving, or keeping a grip on the beloved. Faith is response, but also keeps a grip, holding fast to the beloved. Hence, we read in Ephesians 2: 8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith.” Grooms are grace and grip. Brides are faith and holding fast. Marriage is a metaphor for the mystery of salvation. “By grace” is divine initiation. “Through faith” is human agency. We are saved by grace alone, but the grace that saves is never alone. Faith always follows.
We see divine initiation and human agency linked in scripture. Cleaving is keeping. Jesus cleaves to his bride, keeping her until his return. Jude referred to believers as those who are “kept for Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:1). Jesus promised: “I am with you always.” The writer of the Book of Hebrews notes: “he will never leave you or forsake you” (13:5). Husbands are supposed to be pictures of God’s divine initiation.
Yet we also read of human agency in salvation. “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments” (I Jn. 2:3-5). At the end of his life, Paul signed off with: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (II Tim. 4:7). Human agency is keeping the faith. Faith is holding fast. Brides are supposed to be pictures of human agency.
Dallas Willard rightly noted, “What God gets out of our lives – and, indeed, what we get out of our lives – is simply the person we become.”1 What God gets out of our lives is a bride for his son. Husbands and brides who recognize this share a weighty responsibility. Marriage is a picture of grace and faith. Husbands are not better. Brides do not get a pass. I told only Patrick to “leave and cleave” because he is a picture of getting the ball rolling. Faith follows, and Jennifer is a picture of faith. Both are critical. As Patrick and Jennifer become one flesh, the ball rolls on, a family might follow, and the cycle repeats – all in the Father’s plan to have the best bride possible for his son, Jesus.
For Kathy and me, the cycle leaves us with an empty nest – but not an empty life. This week, we celebrate 32 years together in loving marriage. We’re still learning about grace and faith. And as we’ve counseled Patrick and Jennifer – as well as hundreds of engaged couples – we’re still learning many lessons. I’ve pulled together three and will share them over the next two weeks.
1 Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1998), p. 250.