Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
As a pastor, I have grown to love performing weddings. I enjoy seeing the excitement of young couples anticipating their big day, and then watching them experience the overwhelming anxiety when the day actually comes. I am moved when I see the family members grow misty eyed as the bride and groom process down the aisle to speak their vows to each other. I even look forward to the reception and the speeches when I am invited to pray, and when I surprise the couples by ceremoniously clinking a spoon against a glass for their first kiss.
The Corona virus, however, put a lot of the weddings traditions on hold in 2020. Guest lists were cut in half, and then halved again. New, future wedding dates were penciled into 2021 calendars. Dresses were stored, photographers rescheduled and venue sites renegotiated. The need for Jesus’ miracle of turning water into wine wasn’t necessary to quench the thirst of joyful revelers. The majority of couples were simply praying for a miracle vaccine- and a lenient Governor’s Executive Order that would suddenly make all things possible.
Love and marriage is always difficult, and not since World War II has it been as complicated as it has been during this time of the corona virus. I told many couples in preparation of their wedding day this year that if they could survive a lock-down together, then they were truly meant for each other. Now, that may sound like an odd statement, but I believe it’s true. This pandemic has forced us all to focus on what is important in a partner. We have been forced to experience dedicated time together with minimal distractions as couples and as families and in the process we have discovered who we are and who the person we love really is.
Even though the pandemic has made most of us put masks on, curious and loving couples have actually had the opportunity to take their masks off. And in doing, they have made some important observation. Frankly, it’s true of all couples- married ones as well. Couples spending more time together, often exclusively with their partner, have discovered their eyes are now wide open. Some may have experienced that their romantic relationship was thrown for a loop, in reaching the new normal. Or perhaps, the pandemic turned the home into an intense pressure cooker. Struggling couples realized that they couldn’t push problems under the carpet any longer. That may not seem like a positive discovery, but my friends, it actually may be the first step toward a healthy relationship. And so now, with a new resolve, couples are preparing for the culminating step of marriage. Perhaps, you count yourself in that number. Or perhaps, this year will be an occasion for renewing your wedding vows to the one who has accepted you just as you are in the past year. That is the excitement of love and marriage that we can all celebrate.
So what should a pastor say at a wedding or a service of renewal of vows in the year 2021? I’ll be honest: The most challenging aspect is simply choosing the appropriate Bible verse. Fifty years ago, wedding couples might have listened intently to St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, but not anymore. “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church.” It’s not a bad passage, if you are planning on launching a cold war even before bride and groom arrive at to the reception. Unfortunately, we all have had to deal with new roles and a lot of give and take in the past year.
Then, there is the portrait of companionship found in the book of Genesis. Adam was in a lock-down in the Garden of Eden and he had no partner for working in the garden, so God put him under a deep sleep, and a rib was taken from his side. It is a poignant lesson underscoring that the man and woman were created as equals and that God had formed the two for each other. And so the man cried out, “This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” Unfortunately, this passage too ends with the melancholic scene of the newlyweds being shipped off to their new dwelling never to return home again. It’s what many have experienced in this pandemic. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
Over this past year, I have discovered the beauty and simplicity of Ecclesiastes 4:9-12. The passage speaks openly to couples of the support they offer each other in difficult times. “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone”
So what would Jesus have chosen as an inspiring text if he had been invited to preach as at the Wedding at Cana after a pandemic? Of course, he could have used his own original material. Perhaps a parable or two. After all, many of Jesus’ parables are related to weddings, but I was actually thinking about something else. “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it. “
The two parables say a lot about love and marriage especially in this time. It is how we feel when we finally find the one we are willing to spend our lives with. After years of searching for that unique and special someone, doesn’t love feel like a rare and hidden treasure? And when you truly find it are you not willing to sell off everything of worth to have and to hold that one special treasure? For that one, and that one alone, you are willing to sacrifice and endure all things.
Unfortunately, we don’t know what Jesus said at the wedding in Cana, but we do know what Jesus did. And it is that story which offers every bride and groom, and every married couple, a wonderful promise of what can happen when Jesus is invited to their wedding and is a guest in their home even in the time of a pandemic.
The Evangelist St. John writes that Jesus’s first sign took place in the village of Cana about six miles from Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. It was a simple village wedding- according to Jewish custom. In ancient Palestine, the wedding feast didn’t end when the bride and groom arrived at their new home. For the next week, while they were still dressed in their bridal clothes and with crowns on their heads, they would hold an open house. Here they would be treated like a king and queen and for that one glorious week their word was law. In a land where there was poverty and constant hard work to scrape a living from the soil, this was a week to remember for the rest of their lives. The wedding was a sign of the future joy and happiness. A successful wedding was a sign of a successful marriage. The slightest incident or misstep, not enough food or drink, would be interpreted by the community as a bad omen. Wine was an essential part of the celebration. As the ancient Jewish rabbis said, “Without wine there is no joy!” And yet suddenly, as quickly as the pandemic first came to Minnesota, we read that Jesus’ mother Mary discovered that the wine was running dry. That is how quickly disasters happen and how the unthinkable changes lives.
The story of the wedding at Cana, however, reminds us that when Christ is a guest in your home, even an unknown guest, he can do amazing things. God recognizes your need even before you do. When the wine at the wedding gave out, Mary the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” We should all note that that little line of scripture. It is important for mothers and mothers-in-law. The verse reminds us that if Jesus could listen to his mother in his 30’s, so can we. Unfortunately, we don’t always listen and respond when there is still a possibility to correct or redirect our lives. We’re often so caught up in our own activities and work that we fail to see the emptiness that is drawing near.
The love in marriage, even at the wedding, begins to fail when the bride and groom believe themselves to be the most important figures at the wedding- and one else. If God is to play his part in marriage, bringing all his mercy and grace, he should be taken into account in the home and the love that emerges from that marriage. Today, the promise of marriage, like the wine of joy is running dry simply because God has been left out. As partners in marriage, there will be days when you will disappoint each other, but let me assure you- God will not disappoint you.
The good news this day is that there is always hope. God is performing miracles every day- even in the midst of this pandemic and even when we cannot see them. In these moments, God uses ordinary men and women to accomplish extraordinary things. It is true for those who dare to take off their mask for the one they love. But be prepared, love is not easy. Jesus’ mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” It was hard work to fill the purification jars with water. The servants had to manually lower the jars into the well and haul the water to the banqueting hall. Marriage is like that. It is work. There will be time spent that may seem empty, but we do it because we trust that someone else, a God of love, can see the larger picture. And he promises, like the wine at the wedding of Cana, the best is yet to come.
Love and marriage is always difficult, and never since World War II has it been as complicated as it has been during this time of the corona virus. But surprisingly, even in the midst of this pandemic, couples have found each other and others have uncovered a love and commitment that they had taken for granted.
My friends, Jesus still blesses and renews marriage. He will inspire your home with joy and laughter. He will turn the ordinary into something extraordinary. That is the promise for those who welcome Christ as the guest and partner into their home and into their marriage. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep you hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.