In Lent we remember that we live on borrowed time. We inhabit a borrowed land and we love borrowed people with the hands and words and presence of our borrowed bodies.
Jesus taught God’s word to handfuls and to hundreds. Some were total groupies, following him from town to town hanging on his every word. If Jesus had a merch table, they’d be decked out in his t-shirts and rocking Jesus sandals everyday. Instead, they were more likely to have sold everything (or most everything) and lived on very little so they could give what they had to the poor. Some would have only stopped by to see what the crowd was looking at, and others came with skepticism, hoping for an opportunity to discredit this irritating “prophet” who was getting a little too much traction around the countryside. Many of the crowds were filled with gunners–meaning, over-eager students with ample questions designed mainly to show the teacher and other students how smart the gunner was, not necessarily to clarify a point or get any new information. Once a gunner with hopes of embarrassing the teacher stood up and quizzed Jesus on marriage laws, all the while phrasing it as an honest question about what should happen to a widow who re-marries. Who, he wanted to know, would she be married to in heaven?
No one, Jesus answered. There is no marriage in heaven. Next question.
No marriage in heaven? So when Matthew and I stand in front of our friends and families and repeat after my dear friend and minister in November, “until death do us part,” we really mean it? Not in the sense we think of, the sense of staying married our whole lives. We are thrilled about that part. But that once we die, our marriage is over. I won’t be Mrs. Henry anymore. I’m only borrowing that name, that identity, for this side of eternity. I’m only borrowing this man God has created for a time. I don’t like that very much, but maybe it’s a good thing. Like the woman in the gunner’s story/question/thinly veiled trap, I will belong to no man in heaven but God, and Matthew will belong to no woman but God. That’s why Paul strongly encourages readers to avoid getting married if they can help it. The point is to love God wholeheartedly, not with the bits of our heart left over after we’ve doted on our spouse. Unless, of course, that spouse happens to love you and encourage you and support you into loving God and loving others more completely. Unless, through that spouse you see God’s love in concrete and tangible ways, through this person who leaves the toilet seat up and never loads the dishwasher the right way and celebrates every step you take toward your calling and reminds you that you are not alone when you feel discouraged. Unless in observing the way this person treats you and the people in their orbit, you finally say, “Oh that’s what God meant about unconditional love! Got it. Now I see.” Then, well, we can make an exception for a while.
Ultimately, though, I will have to give him back to God, just like everything else. I will give back my body, my mind, my childhood home and the ground it’s built on. I will give back every breath and thought and word, everything I ever did. From dust I was formed and to dust I will return. But there’s a certain dark chocolate sort of bittersweetness to that knowledge. As if, after finishing a beloved, captivating book I will finally close it, lift it and hug it tightly to my chest to absorb any stray morsels of joy that may have flitted off its pages like particles of dust, and walk it back to the library only to discover that I’ve been invited to stay and chat with the librarian and the author of not only this, but all books. We’ll settle in for some peppermint tea in a cozy armchair with a nice soft blanket and talk about the book God lent me, the one that’s made me laugh and cry and feel and do so very much these past few decades. And once we’re done with that book, we’ll talk of all the others, all the stories lovingly written letter by letter to be lent out and called home to live forever with their author.