for Daniel Castle and Victoria Van Vlear, June 5, 2015
Well, Daniel and Victoria, this is it. You’ve arrived on the long-awaited day, your wedding day. Take a good look around you. Look at all these people who love you—who have led and listened to and looked out for you…
When Daniel and Victoria and I met to talk about the wedding, they asked me to say some words about fairy tales. Now, there seem to be two kinds of people—people who love fairy tales, who love love, who love happy endings…and people who can’t stand them! To this latter group, fairy tales are cheap, easy, and false, setting people up for disappointment in a world far more treacherous than Disney would suggest.
So how to choose? Do we side with the sentimentalists or go over to the dark side with the cynics? Let me start by giving a nod to the cynics. They’re right, of course; the world is hard. Love is complicated, delicate work. It will break your back and break your heart. It is certainly harder than you know, Daniel and Victoria.
The problem with the cynics, though, is that they take this to imply that love isn’t worth it, that love is only ever a losing game. Cynics take pride in their realism; really, though, their despair is a form of self-protection. Lower your expectations, and no one gets hurt.
But we don’t have to be sentimental saps to love fairy tales. The best fairy tales aren’t naïve; they aren’t cheap and easy escapes from the real world. J.R.R. Tolkien, who wrote one of the most powerful fairy tales ever in The Lord of the Rings, writes that the fairy tale “does not deny the existence of…sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of the deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat…, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.”
Did you catch that? Fairy tales don’t deny the harshest realities of life. If anything, they lean into those realities, acknowledging the genuine fight against death in the midst of life. What fairy tales deny—“in the face of much evidence”—is “universal final defeat.” Fairy tales breathe the oxygen of hope, banking on the fact that victory can be snatched even from the jaws of defeat.
Daniel and Victoria, my hope and prayer for you today is that your marriage will be a fairy tale. Your long friendship and romance up till now has something of the fairy tale about it already, to be sure. In fact, finding and catching a mate is usually the whole story in a fairy tale, or at least the version that Disney tells. (Think of Cinderella, where all the drama happens before the wedding.) But getting to the altar is the easy part. The more difficult, the more interesting part is the adventure of life together.
In your marriage vows, you do the boldest thing you will ever do—you sign a blank check. Today, “better and worse,” “richer and poorer,” “sickness and health” are vague abstractions, signaling your abiding commitment to one another, whatever comes. Of course, whatever will come—and whatever whatever is, it will surprise you. Perhaps you will be filthy rich; today, you promise to endure that together. Perhaps you will have to fight to make ends meet, not knowing where the next meal will come from; today, you promise to endure that together. Could be that one of you gets sick—I mean, really sick, sick for life, sick to the point that you will often seem more a patient than a spouse. Today, you promise to endure that together, too.
One of the mercies of marriage is how little of its difficulty you know going in. Of course, you know little of its joy, too. Young love is a blast, but it’s just that—young. It knows nothing of the quiet warmth of old love. It knows nothing of the love of a husband and wife who are also a father and mother, a grandfather and grandmother. It knows nothing of love on the other side of failure and forgiveness. There is so much peril on the road ahead, true, but also so much promise.
May you joyfully take up the call to journey together on the way to God’s holy city. It will not be easy. Some days, it will take all you have to patiently endure the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Heck, some days it will take all you have to patiently endure one another. Your little habits and idiosyncracies will aggravate; your sins and stupidities will debilitate.
On those days, and every day, may God grant you Tolkien’s “fleeting glimpse of Joy.” May you be reminded of the one who, “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of God,” where he “always lives to make intercession” for you (Heb. 12:2, 7:25). The book of Hebrews describes Jesus as the “trailblazer” or “pathfinder” or “pioneer” of our faith. He is the leader in the grandest fairy tale of them all, a real-life adventure story in which our hero fights the fiercest foes—sin, death, and the devil—to save the one he loves.
If the story of Jesus is a fairy tale—and it sure seems to fit the pattern—then we can safely say that fairy tales aren’t for sentimental saps after all. Here’s what it took for this greatest of fairy tales to end in happily ever after: The God who made the world, and who made it good, had to become part of that world. Not only did he become a part of the world he created, he endured the worst it had to offer. Though he was blameless, merciful, truthful, wise, courageous, he was mocked, misunderstood, and maligned, bullied, beaten, and betrayed—and, finally, hung from a tree, lynched, assassinated. This was the end.
Only it wasn’t. In the greatest reversal ever known, the God who made the world and then was killed by that same world rose from the dead. Death could not contain the Living One. Nor will it be able to contain those who find life in the resurrected Christ, for he promises to give life to all who come to him.
The Bible describes Jesus’ people as his “bride.” And so you see, the greatest fairy tale is itself the story of a marriage. Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before him—the joy of meeting his bride on their wedding day and living happily ever after.
My friends, may the joy of belonging to Jesus steel you in the years to come to love another all the way to the end, all the way to that final wedding day when we will gather together at the marriage supper of the Lamb.
In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Cited in Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), 81-82.