Sermon – A new day
A note from Jamie Howison: On Sunday June 26, in the context of our weekly evening communion liturgy, we celebrated a wedding as a part of the worship service. There are several good reasons as to why the couple opted to solemnize their marriage in this way, the most important being that it stated so very clearly the degree to which their shared life is anchored in the life of the community. It is not the only way in which marriages can be solemnized, yet maybe it stands as a very strong reminder to all of us that a wedding liturgy is first and foremost an act of worship.
irst things first… why are we celebrating the blessing of the marriage of Jodi and George in the context of our weekly Sunday evening liturgy? To which the simplest answer is “why not?” What better time and place to do this with these two people, who are so very much a part of the life of saint benedict’s table?
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Which actually backs us into another, even more foundational question, namely why is it that the church is involved in the solemnizing of marriages in the first place? After all, you can always hire yourself a marriage commissioner, and build yourself a suitably elegant wedding service in some romantic location—a park, a historic building, or up on the roof of the Winnipeg Art Gallery—and follow it up with a bit of a party. You can even invite a friend or perhaps a favourite uncle to say a few words of prayer, and the bases are all covered. Yes, this is a marvelous space that we’re in, but the ballroom at the Fort Garry Hotel has more comfortable seating, and it is air-conditioned…
It is interesting to note that in the first 300 years of its existence, the Christian church doesn’t seem to have had a liturgy for weddings. Marriages were sealed as a legal agreement, and life went on. This began to shift after the church became legal—in the Roman Empire, up to the year 313 we were a suspect bunch, occasionally coming under pretty severe persecution—and a practice of blessing marriages began to surface. Over the centuries this really ramped up, to the point where really the only place you could be married was in the church. Now things have circled around, such that some weddings happen in churches and some don’t; some have a marriage commissioner, and some a minister; some don’t bother with much of a ceremony at all.
Yet I think that the original instinct to bring marriages into the context of the household of faith and to offer blessing was so very right. And it has nothing to do with lovely buildings that have long center aisles that just cry out for a bridal procession, nor with grand traditional words, weepy bridesmaids, and groomsmen uncomfortable in their ill-fitting cummerbunds and rented shoes.
Whenever I sit down to talk with a couple about a proposed wedding, one of the first things that I always say to them is that there is very little that we have to do; that most of what we think needs to happen in a wedding is actually just wedding culture—the clothes, the flowers, the over-priced photographer, the grand procession, the formal wedding party. What we need to do is to land the couple at the front of the church with me and with two designated witnesses, so that consent can be given one to the other, vows and rings exchanged, and prayers offered. Add the signing of the register, and that’s really it. And while the two designated witnesses who sign off on the register and legal documents, everyone present bears witness, offers prayer, and pledges their blessing and support.
Which is why it makes so much sense to do this here on a Sunday night, in the context of worship and communion. This is the prayer of a gathered community, and one to which George and Jodi have a real connection. Yes, we’ve got a good number of friends and guests here—and you are so very welcome to fully take part in everything that unfolds here this evening—but at heart this is a gathering of the church, of the Body of Christ. Where better for these two people to stand in openness and humility, asking for our blessing and our friendship? And in a few minutes when these two join me at the front, I will ask the congregation to stand to and offer your blessing and support; take those words seriously, because they need to hear you say them.
I believe that it is particularly poignant, given that this is a second marriage for both George and Jodi. The collapse of a marriage can bring on an almost crushing sense of failure; lost hopes, broken dreams, and sometimes a deep fearfulness and loss of trust… mostly a loss of trust in oneself. The halting steps toward a second marriage are so often marked by fear and anxiety—can I dare to do that again?—that it can be easiest to just shut down, lock up your heart and hopes, and just not.
But we are a death/resurrection people, and our faith is a death/resurrection faith. Which means we are not fated to be held captive by our failings or locked up in our personal histories, fearfully tending our wounds. Yes, we do need to face up to the messes we make of things and to be honest and transparent about who and what we are, but in this faith that is not crippling; it is freedom. To use the language of this tradition at its most stark, we are not saved from our failings and our sin; we are saved right in the midst of them. Our God has a rather remarkable track record of taking loss and failure, and not only forgiving it but turning it into the most wonderful stuff; new life, new beginnings, new hope, new dreams. In the biblical story, it is hard to find a truly new beginning that isn’t drawn out of something that looks first like loss or failure.
I love that we proclaimed those verses from the Song of Solomon here tonight:
10 My beloved speaks and says to me:
‘Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
11 for now the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.
12 The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come…
(Song of Solomon 2.10-12a)
I love it partly because they are words of romance, spoken from the lover to the beloved, and filled with such a sense of passionate newness… it almost makes you blush. Yet with those phrases about the winter being past and all being in blossom these verses also speak to all things being made new.
This is our faith, that we are redeemed in the midst of life in all of its complexities. For the people of God, there is always a new day about to be born.
And a word of thanks to Bram Ryan, for the great photographs…