Posted in aging, death, dying, Ministry, wedding

A beginning and an end in a moment

It was a beautiful afternoon wedding. Slightly overcast skies kept it from getting too hot as the young couple took their vows just a few steps away from a blooming rose garden. Friends and family watched from all sides, witnessing two becoming one.

Some remained for the vast array of pictures while others, including myself, headed towards the small community center for the reception. I helped put the beer on ice as the BBQ caterers carried in the food and the DJ set up his sound equipment. Just a few minutes later the wedding party entered. Who knew how good ribs and champaign paired? Soon the dancing began.

My phone buzzed in my pocket. I glanced at it, recognized the name, and felt like I needed to answer. The voice told me that Jack (not his real name) had just been taken to the hospital. I confirmed which hospital it was, and thought, “I’ll head down there a little later on my way home.” I also thought, “I better start drinking ice tea and lemonade.”

Minutes later, my phone buzzed in my pocket. Same name and number. This time the voice said, “Jack just died.” What? I just saw him a few days ago. He seemed fine. I grabbed my coat, told my wife what happened, gave her a quick kiss and headed out to my car. I knew that his wife – now his widow – was alone with him. The rest of the family was not just out of town. They were out of state.

I didn’t turn on the radio right away, letting my mind transition from the first day of a married life together to the last day of a married life together. The last day of sixty-five years together. I never know when I will experience such extremes in just a few hours.

Another occasion from a few year ago flashed into my mind. One afternoon I baptized an infant just moments before I did a funeral for her great-grandmother. It was the one moment when all the family could be there, so we laughed and cried and celebrated the first and last pages of life.

Half-an-hour later I walked through the emergency room doors. Suspecting why I was there, a nurse in a mask at a desk asked, “Who are you here for?” After I answered she gave me a room number and clicked me in. I walked into the room where Jack’s body lay, still intubated and IV’d. His widow Marie sat there, head bowed, holding his hand. I touched her shoulder, she looked in my eyes, and reached up to hug me. My prayers joined hers as we commended Jack into the Lord’s hands, body and soul and all things. The words of the benediction spoke a powerful blessing.

I spent the next two hours with Marie. I certainly wasn’t going to leave her there alone as we waited for the staff to contact the funeral home. I also spoke with her daughter and a few dear friends to make sure Marie wouldn’t have to spend the night alone.

We sat there for a while, sometimes very quiet, sometimes talking about life and death. I thought to myself, “Sixty-five years ago, they took their vows, just like the young couple today.” And then I thought, “Imagine that young couple sixty-five years from now!” Time warped for me as six-and-a-half decades compressed into a moment. If you watch space science fiction TV and movies, you get to know the phrase “time-space continuum.” If you are in the ministry, sometimes you actually get to experience it!

Posted in wedding

Private ceremony, public place

Not all weddings take place in a church. Today I performed one for Joshua and Jenna at Washington Oaks State Park in Palm Coast, FL. If you’re going to get married on January 3, you might as well do it under a canopy of live oak trees in front of a beautiful rose garden on a slightly-overcast, 80 degree afternoon. The attendance of our small gathering was augmented with other park guests enjoying the walking trails that intersected right where the couple took their vows. It was an intimate moment in full view of anyone who paid park admission.

And both enjoyed the experience. I love seeing the look on the faces of innocent bystanders when they suddenly realize they are part of a wedding. I also love that moment when a couple realizes there are lots of uninvited guests sharing the moment and cheering them on when its time for the kiss.

This isn’t the first time I had a bigger than planned audience. I’ve done ceremonies in a gazebo in back of an elementary school where kids were playing on the playground. I’ve done weddings on the beach, surrounded by sunbathers. I done one at a marina, where we were joined by many boats and boaters. And my favorite was performed in front of dolphins watching from their pool. Usually you don’t realize you have such an audience until the kiss. Then the hoots and hollers say it all.

A number of years ago, I had taken a group of middle school youth to this very park to walk the trails. We wandered right into the middle of a wedding. Some of the kids yelled, “Run!” when the they saw who they assumed was the groom. It was a great moment.

In those moments when I feel ornery, I hope that unexpected guests will crash the wedding, bomb the photos, and shout loud and long during the kiss. It’s fun to pretend you’re all by yourself. It’s even more fun to know that everyone is watching.

Posted in Ministry, remembering, wedding

A moment I didn’t remember. But they did.

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

I got an unexpected Christmas card/thank you note last week, along with a generous gift, from a person I didn’t know. Well, at least it was someone I didn’t think I knew.

Inside the card were some very nice words thanking me for performing their wedding at their home eight years ago, The person went on to explain some of the challenges they had faced, but also enumerated some recent blessings. They thanked me several times for the meaningful words I had spoken that afternoon.

OK, this was weird. I have a pretty good memory, especially with names. But these names just didn’t ring a bell. I brought up my Google calendar from October 10, 2010, and it was all there. It should have been a memorable day. Not only had I gone to their home that Sunday afternoon at 1:30 to do their wedding, but I then went to another home to do another wedding at 3 pm.

I’ve been keeping a daily journal for decades, so I rummaged through a box of old journals and found the one for the fall of 2010. Alas, I hadn’t written much about that day. I had only mentioned doing two weddings that afternoon before teaching confirmation class.

When I sat down to write a thank you note, I reflected at how an event can be both unforgettable and forgettable all at the same time. What was for me an insignificant task on my to-do list was a powerful, life-changing moment for someone else. A moment that had faded for me was even more vivid for them.

I was honest in my note about not remembering much about that day. But I also mentioned how something as insignificant as a baby in a manger is at the same time a vivid life-changing moment for us. So are the very simple words, “I do.”

When you are on the officiant side of a marriage ceremony, it’s easy to lose sight of the gravity of that moment. Because of moments just like the one above, I remind myself to give such moments my best. It may not mean that much to me, but it means the world to the couple taking their vows. If they long remember the commitment they make when they “repeat after me,” then I have done my job well.

Posted in Life, sermon, wedding

Tale as old as time

26168685_384909625292954_3414628934557062156_nWedding message for Kim and Daniel, January 12, 2018. Kim is a huge fan of Beauty and the Beast, hence the references to “tale as old as time.” 

Kim and Daniel, in some ways, it’s hard to believe we are actually here today, to witness you taking your vows and becoming husband and wife. I looked at my calendar and we met for our first premarital counseling session in February of last year. And I know that we had this day booked for your wedding several months before that.

But I guess it’s a good thing you had a lot of time to get ready. Kim, you told me last week that your to do list was still pretty long, even after a whole year to get things done! I’ll bet you were still checking things off your list this morning!

But today, I want to talk about someone who’s been getting for this day even longer than you have. The ultimate “tale as old as time” is the one we find in Genesis chapter 2: “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). The idea of marriage is a part of God’s creation of this world. It was his plan from the very beginning. And today, you get to be a part of his plan, too.

I want to talk about that plan for a few moments today. First of all, God said, “It’s not good to be alone.” He created us to be in relationships. From birth we have a relationship with our parents. As families grow, brothers and sisters have relationships. And then the day comes when you leave your families to create a new family. And as your family grows, you will have a relationship with your children and grandchildren and even beyond. Never forget God’s gift of relationships in your life.

Second, you become one flesh. In marriage, God brings two together to become one. Everything you do affects the other. You share joys and sorrows, meals and a home, friends and family, and intimate moments together. Your language will change. Instead of “me” and “you,” you’ll say “we” and “us.” That’s exactly what God had in mind.

The third one is something we heard in the second reading today, from a letter written by a man named Paul. As he talked about husbands and wives, he called that relationship a model of just how much Christ loves his church. That love is even older than the creation of the world. Paul began that letter by writing that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that is, before creation itself (Eph. 1:4).

So you and I were on God’s to-do list from eternity. He always had us in mind. He knew that we would need someone like Jesus, and he was willing to give us his son. He was even willing to let his son die for us. That’s how much he loved you and me, the ultimate “tale as old as time.”

The animated Disney movie came out in 1991. Ha ha!  – tale as old as you! The original French story was published in 1740, a tale older than our nation. But the real “tale as old as time” is that of God’s love for us, his plans for us, and the future he has prepared for us. It’s so great to know that you’ve always been and always will be on God’s to-do list!

Posted in Grace, Ministry, wedding

The venue wedding

The Treasury on the Plaza, St. Augustine, FL

This post is a sequel to “Will you do my daughter’s wedding?” from August 26, 2017. I promised an update, so here goes…

After a few more email exchanges, I finally figured out what the bride had in mind. It wasn’t that she didn’t want the biblical side of things. She just didn’t want it to be so formal, which is fine at a venue wedding. She suggested a few scripture readings, which I had requested, and we were good to go. I performed the ceremony just a few hours ago, everything went well, and here are a few of my reflections.

It was worth it just to see how happy the couple was. I only met them briefly at last night’s rehearsal, but today, they were both smiling ear-to-ear. They were so excited to have reached this day.

The mother of the bride asked me to use a bible which her grandmother had given her mother at her wedding. They would pass it along to a fourth generation. I thought that was cool. I met the grandmother who had first received that bible today. Her nickname was Crunch. She was the fourth on her bowling team, so when it was her turn in the tenth frame of a close game, it was “crunch time,” and she usually came through.

The father of the bride was a bit uncomfortable about giving up his only daughter to this young man. I can relate. How do you let go of your little girl? It’s not easy. Who could ever live up to your expectations for your daughter’s husband? We hit it off well and had a great conversation.

The wedding planner, Brittney, was just one of so many coordinating the wedding. She had an assistant helping her. The venue had two or three coordinators. There was a sound person, a light person, a photographer with assistant, a videographer, and a few other miscellaneous people dressed in black with gold name badges who had jobs to do. That didn’t include the bartenders, wait staff, photo booth staff and footmen who would reset the room after the ceremony for the reception. It takes a lot of people to make a day like this happen!

I don’t have any pictures from the wedding yet. The new tradition is request that everyone put their phones away to focus on the ceremony. I’ll dig some up online though and add them later. This was one fancy place ($$$$).

And you know what? For the first time in about thirty years, I can honestly say that I am enjoying doing weddings. (What? I thought that was your least favorite thing to do!) I guess I’m getting old and sentimental. It gives me great joy and hope when two become one. I’ll write more about this another day…