Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Marriage of Justin and Neina

Justin and Neina
Ruth 1:16-17
Colossians 3:12-18
John 15:9-17

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

You know, the thing about Neina is, she and I go way back . . . to yesterday.  We have known each other for a long day.  We’ve had all sorts of experiences together, like saying “It’s so nice to finally meet you,” and “Wow!  Nice dress.”  We’ve been through thick and thin in our two conversations, and I feel we have really grown in our relationship from back before we met all the way to now having finally met.

Justin, on the other hand, is an enigma to me.  Because you do not so much get to know Justin as you are . . . I don’t know . . . Overtaken, perhaps?  Having Justin Vetrano in your life, means a certain set of things.  And, as many of you know, chief among those things is something we might call “acting.”  If you’ve known Justin for even half as long as I’ve known Neina, you have heard him do some impression of somebody at some point.  And, having seen it many many times around Christmas, one of my favorite things Justin does is what we call, “The Camel Driver.”  I’m not even going to try to explain the whole thing, but I will say, the character has a warm place in my heart.

And, given that the Camel Driver is the one who delivers the Wise Guys to the stall in Bethlehem, our thoughts now naturally turn to Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh.

The Gold part is obvious.  Though it is white gold, Neina and Justin will offer rings as a sign of their pledge and all that that implies.  The connection of Frankincense to these two is something you’ll have to pry out of them yourself at some point.  It really is a story that makes you think, “Maybe that Agent Mulder wasn’t crazy after all.”  But then we come to Myrrh . . . Myrrh is something hipsters say that means, “I am disappointed.”  And, as our family has learned twice now, Myrrh is also what a female cat says when she . . . um . . . reaches kitten-bearing age.  In addition, Myrrh is that third gift given to Jesus by the Wise Guys, along with the more-familiar Gold and Frankincense.

Just last week, I smelled Myrrh for the first time, courtesy of my wife having some essential oils around.  I was really excited for this moment, since I had never smelled Myrrh before.  My assessment?  Myrrh smells like something you clean a floor with.  I mean, you know, a really expensive floor.  Myrrh is not something you use to remind you of the joys of life and all that.  Myrrh is a resin that was used in embalming and funeral rites.  It smells better than formaldehyde, to be sure, but it ain’t no Frankincense.  Myrrh has a strong association with death.

Oh wait, I left some stuff out!

So, one of my favorite parts of the Marriage Rite in the Book of Common Prayer (which is like my denomination’s hymnal) is the Blessing of the Marriage.  A beautiful prayer, which comes at the end of the marriage ceremony.  And there’s this one part that gets me every time, where the Priest asks God to Bless them in their work and in their companionship; in their sleeping and in their waking; in their joys and in their sorrows; in their life and in their death.

Now I’m sure that for most people hearing that final blessing of the couple, they don’t really notice the last sentence.  Instead they are wondering if there will be vegan appetizers, or if the band takes requests, and what exactly is meant by an “open bar?”  But anytime I hear that Blessing of the Marriage, I honestly get choked up, whether I am speaking it, or hearing someone else speak it.  And here is why:

We expect to ask for God’s blessing on all sorts of human activities.  You know, starting a congregation, or opening a soup kitchen, or getting married to the one we love.  We ask for God’s blessing in communities all the time.  But I think we all honestly expect that when our final hour comes, we will likely die alone.  Chances are, we’re sitting in a hospital, maybe some family gathered around, but dying is a lonely business.

But hear the last line of that Marital Blessing again:  Bless them . . . In their life, and in their death.

It’s subtle, to be sure.  But it can be life-changing.  Bless them in their death.    As we just heard in the Gospel reading, Jesus said, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  Sure, Jesus, we understand that great love is to lay down your life for your friends.  But the greater comfort is this:  To lay down your life with your friends.

While I know I am putting undo pressure on the phrase, “Till we are parted by death,” there’s a promise in that phrase.  It sounds like law, I know.  I will not leave you until I am dead and buried.  (Hey, happy wedding day!)  But there is a very strong promise in that vow, and it is related to what I am trying to get at here:  In simple terms, a marriage can mean that we face death together.  Obviously, in most cases, one spouse will die before the other.  But that spouse dies knowing they are loved.  And when the other spouse finally closes their eyes in sleep, it is in the confidence that they will be reunited with the one who has gone before.

I know it seems awfully heavy handed for a wedding sermon, but I also believe it is the best news a couple can hear.  A marriage vow of commitment means we will not die alone.  And, more importantly, Jesus’ promise of resurrection means that death is not the end of our relationships.  For those who marry and for those who don’t marry.  We will be reunited with those who have gone before.

You promise your love to each other with Gold.  You celebrate all that life has to offer with Frankincense.  And you cling to each other in the Myrrh-infused journey into everlasting life. 
Justin and Neina, may God bless you in your work and in your companionship; in your sleeping and in your waking; in your joys and in your sorrows; in your life and in your death.

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