Today would make a wonderful movie. Everything is visible.
Maggie is so beautiful and Mervin is so handsome and they’re both so obviously devoted and in love. And we’re all dressed up and on our best behavior, and there’s music and flowers, and it’s just a wonderful, grace-filled moment.
But I’ve been thinking about how hard it is to make a movie about marriage. A movie about love.
Of course there are lots of movies about love—every movie ever made seems to be about love–but most of them are about crazy, stupid love—sentimental love, adolescent love. There are lots of movies about marriage, but most of them are about the stormy ones, the failed ones.
I think real love is almost impossible to film because in some sense it’s finally invisible. It’s from God. It’s about the vine, not the branches.
In the last scene of The Passion of the Christ Mel Gibson actually shows us the Resurrection, from inside the tomb. We see the linens collapse, the ones that wrapped the body, and then we see the Risen Jesus, crouching on the floor, naked and handsome and strong, and all of us in the theater know who it is–there’s no question about it—it’s Jesus—it’s the same actor who’s been playing Jesus all along–and there’s this stirring, military music, and the drums are beating, and it’s all dramatic and cinematic and nothing at all like the Resurrection as it’s described in the gospels themselves, because the gospels themselves never describe the Resurrection. They can’t.
In all four gospels we are always outside the tomb and the tomb is always empty—the angels keep telling us, he’s not here, he’s not here–and the emphasis is always on the act of seeing, on the act of interpreting, and the people who are seeing and interpreting are mixed up and afraid, and even when Jesus appears to them, even when he’s standing right in front of them, they don’t recognize him at first, they don’t know who he is, and they can never hold on to him when they finally do. He always vanishes.
We could never have filmed the Resurrection. It was too real. It wasn’t just some weird thing that happened a long time ago but something that is always happening and is happening now.
To film it we’d have to show Mervin standing at the sink, doing the dishes.
To film it we’d have to show Maggie and Mervin sitting in the living room, reading.
The clouds through the windows.
What I admire about Maggie and Mervin is that they’re not interested in making a movie but in making a marriage, and they are, and they will. Their love is as romantic and sentimental as Casablanca, as Apollo 13, but it’s more than that, too.
Maggie really looks at Mervin and tries to see him, for who he is, in himself. Mervin really looks at Maggie. He doesn’t expect her or some fantasy version of her to serve him. He serves her.
Both Maggie and Mervin understand that to believe is to interpret and that to be married is to interpret, and that the Beloved is always mystery and the Beloved is always changing, and so the interpreting is never over, is never done, and that’s the great challenge of it, and the great and holy fun. And they’re getting married here at St. Mary’s not just because it’s a good place to get married or because they think they should but because they believe: that life isn’t meaningless and life isn’t desolate, and that the mystery of who they are as persons and the mystery of their love for each other comes from God and flows from God and always points back to God, who is love, who is all tenderness and personality and regard.
There’s a little poem I like by the Kentucky farmer and poet Wendell Berry, about the Resurrection scene in the Gospel of John, when even Mary Magdalene fails to recognize the Risen Lord. He was too free, Berry says. When Jesus rose from the dead, Berry says, “striding godly forth,” he was so free of “the politics of illusion,” of the false and the trivial and the consumerist, that “He appeared . . . / to be only the gardener walking about / in the new day, among the flowers.”
Only the gardener. Though for Berry, of course, that’s a good thing.
As much as any of us can be, Maggie and Mervin are free of the politics of illusion. They’re too thoughtful. They have too much integrity. That’s what I admire. They don’t care about appearances. They don’t care about prestige. They are willing to be overlooked, to be mistaken for gardeners, because they know that what really matters is invisible, is the Resurrection, always and everywhere going on—
although today, in this garden, among these flowers, in their youth and in their beauty, we can’t see them as anything but what they really are.
They are the angels at the tomb, they are the beloved disciples, they are the ones we love and the ones above all loved by God, here and now and all the days of their lives.