the marital cup

by Elizabeth de Barros

Still Life with Lemon, Oranges, and Glass of Wine

— Willem Kalf


Like handblown glass, delicate in construction but strong in substance, the marriage covenant is a cup that holds the vintage of years gone by, blessed and preserved by God.

While love is as strong as death, marriage is fragile if only for the fact that two fallen people, a man and a woman brought together as one, commit to an exclusive bond for the rest of their days, come what may. Knowing that a covenant designed by God has His backing brings much-needed assurance.

But no marriage is unlike the first, where the culprit of sin creeps in to take its toll. The effects of Adam and Eve’s fall were felt at close range — firstborn son murdered the second-born, with God presiding as Witness and Judge. I imagine that as parents, partners, and lovers, they fell into each other’s arms that night searching for consolation from an unbearable wound, aware that bitter herbs change the taste of things.

What keeps a marriage? Sustains it through life’s trials, cares, disappointments, and woes? Certainly not the froth left over from an elaborate wedding ceremony. As exciting and wonderful the fanfare, wedding attire, rich foods, lavish gifts, and honeymoon can be, eventually helium dissipates, styles change, china breaks and pictures fade. Something stronger is needed when storm clouds gather.

Apart from inviting family and friends to witness the ceremony and share in the festivities, what compels a man and a woman to stand before a crowd and declare that they will stay together, “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part?”

The nearness of God.

But our culture trends toward having the greater focus be on the wedding event — the more outlandish the better — a raucous party with all the trappings. Whether staged in a desert, bride and groom suspended from bungee cords, or videotaped underwater, it’s all but forgotten that when vows are exchanged, God is the unseen Officiate. Even Christians need reminding of this. In a day when selfishness and “freedom of choice” permeates our thinking on every level, we’re not immune to being lured away, abandoning all reason for the sake of pleasure and the pursuit of happiness.

Vows are best framed in solemnity. As comforting and wonderful as marriage can be, it’s both a sacrifice and a crucible, less often a pleasure dome. Without strong Biblical encouragement, we can be tempted to subtly diminish the gift God has sewn into the fabric of society, designed to remind us of the mystery between Christ and the Church:

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother
and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
This mystery is profound,
and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

-Ephesians 5:31-32 (ESV)

Ultimately, marriage is on display for the glory of God. It’s not about happiness as much as it’s about holiness as He works through life’s circumstances to mold and shape us, conforming us into His image if we will surrender to His dealings. He’s the third strand in the cord, providing strength, proving faithful as a very present help when things appear to be fraying. He sees every sacrifice, gesture, trial, hardship, sorrow, annoyance, hurt, fear, desire, joy, hope and dream. And He collects every tear in His bottle, stores them up in remembrance, watching over the covenant made in His Name.

So lift up your marital cup to the Lord. Reflect through the glass on His faithfulness and the memories made, even the ones that stretched you in every direction, and ask yourself, “By Whose authority?” Then bow lower still.  Bless the partner of your youth, recount your vows, bless and enjoy one another. Understand that God is just as near today as when He presided over you when you stood together upon the altar before a future unknown.

And remember that the cup belongs to Him. He’s the expert viticulturist, Who patiently perfects the bouquet of a fortified wine over time. Let Him refresh your cup, fill it anew, pour out a blessing.

Savor the long finish. He reserves the best for last.



Details on Still Life with Lemon, Oranges and Glass of Wine

The middle axis of this painting is formed by a römer wine glass with an elaborate stem. Placed in front of a dark niche, it is partly lit by the small amount of light that shines on it. The light is also refracted by the transparent glass and the wine itself. On the marble table there are three bergamot or Seville oranges and a lemon. Jutting out over the table’s edge, a knife with a polished agate handle protrudes through the bright yellow lemon peel, and the porous strip of skin, peeled off in one piece, curls around like a festoon, forming a decorative counterpart to the narrow pointed orange leaves. Showing sweet and sour citrus fruits together in this way, the artist symbolically admonishes the viewer (who can be seen looking in at the window, in the reflection on the glass) to be temperate and to add lemon and orange juice to wine, as they were considered to have medicinal, humoral, and physiological properties.