This post, the first in a long while, is dedicated to the following lovely couples:
Annika and Brandan
Nick and Bill
Amanda and Danny
Erica and Dana
Blake and Melissa
Jacob and Faith
Summer 2016 was exceptional for one primary reason in my corner of the world. I presided at six (well, five and a half, let’s say) weddings in less than six weeks. From July 23 to Aug. 27, most of my spare moments in ministry were spent writing wedding homilies, helping select good readings, editing vows, or just painting my toenails since I knew they would be visible come ceremony time.
Accompanying me in this tour-de-nuptials was my dear and fearless family. As we loaded ourselves into our Prius for the last wedding-related road trip of the summer, my 6-year old exclaimed, “Team Wedding – let’s go!” Such enthusiasm in a child is not to be taken for granted. He was awarded in the form of wedding reception s’mores. (Thanks, Faith and Jacob!)
You might imagine that after six ceremonies, six homilies, six family negotiations and six sets of vows, it becomes rote or regular to preside over the uniting of two people in promise. Well friends, I’m here to say that it doesn’t. It never gets old. It never loses meaning. You can plan a wedding that is devoid of meaning and/or full of fluff. But those I had the great privilege of officiating this summer were never like that. And so I thought I’d collect some items of wisdom that I think I’ve learned this year from these amazing couples.
1. Any wedding worth its salt stares death in the face.
Yeah, you might be curious about that “five and a half” number. So, the “half” wedding I did was more of a “blessing two people into pursuing marriage” than the full on license-cake-and-dress affair. My good friend died of a fast moving cancer in August. Her son and his fiancé wanted so much to involve his mother in their promise-making, but they also didn’t want two weddings (they had already set a date and sent invitations). So what to do? Well, we gathered with just family, spoke prayers, shared communion, sang the doxology and drank wine. It was beautiful. My friend died the very next day.
We are all in whiplash grief over her death, but I can say with certainty that the last hours of her full consciousness beheld something beautiful: her son and new daughter praying each other into commitment. Then she shared the feast of Jesus. Then, in a matter of hours, she passed from consciousness.
There is one image held in common between our Lutheran wedding ritual and the funeral ritual: the marriage feast at the end of time. Jesus Christ gathers the saints together with all of creation renewed for one big wedding banquet, we believe. And we pray to glimpse this feast when we marry and bury people. And so: any wedding that is worth our time and effort holds death close. It is for such trying times that we bother being wed in the first place.
2. Put aside your pride and hit the dance floor.
This is dedicated mostly to the goofy, bold, sweet, hilarious folks who hit the floor when the music dropped in Edmonds last Saturday. Finally, Team Wedding 2016 (myself, my spouse and two young sons) were able to stay long enough at a wedding to eat dessert and share a few crazy moves on the dance floor. I know not everyone loves shaking their booty, but what I saw in these folks was not some too-cool, MTV-approved “bump and grind,” but much more a simple delight in our human capacity to be joyful with our bodies. You didn’t need to look good or know the song. You just needed a smile and a will to groove. There we were: toddlers bouncing with the beat, old folks tapping their toes, and middle-aged folks being as goofy as I’ve ever seen. It was simply life-giving. And if it is life-giving while being weird, it has to be close to the gospel of Jesus. So, dance.
3. There is no one way to do a wedding.
Hollywood studio lot? Yep. Front steps of an art museum? Yep. Big church filled to capacity? Yep. There is no one way to be married, kittens. Many ways can be wonderful. Let me continue…
There was an adorable dog who carried the rings. There was a ceremony of 100+ looking toward Mt. Spokane over picturesque vineyards. There were only twelve guests on a friend’s lawn. The bride and groom, with families, arrived by way of separate boats while the wedding party of 16 greeted them standing ankle-deep in a lake. A bride remade her mother’s formal wedding dress from long and lovely to cute and tailored. There was a taco truck serving up the goods alongside a table filled with traditional Norwegian cookies.
Be yourself and celebrate your quirks.
4. Wear that pocket square.
I am not all about super-formal attire for its own sake. But my 6-year old son found a sweet vest at a thrift shop that featured a (sewn-in) pocket square. It became his wedding vest. He loved boasting about the pocket square.
When it comes to community celebrations, it isn’t buckets of money or obedience of social norms that make them special. It’s the sincere joy of bringing our best together for the sake of a big transition. Two people making promises “unto death” is a big deal. Woe to any wedding that makes light of this. In contrast, wear your pocket square! That is to say, bring out the special garments. Prepare the special food. Learn the special words and the special dances. This only happens once. Let’s do it up right. And by “right” I don’t mean the flawless perfection of bridal magazines: no ones’s life looks like that. I mean the right-ness of two people meant to be together, and the community with the courage to back them up. Cake, pocket squares, goofy dances and all.
When the Personal Achievement for a teen group was announced nearly everyone in the audience held their breath knowing this group of kids was the clear decision, this group of kids dealt with something no one should ever have to and came back to change the culture in their school to prevent something like this from ever happening again.