Sunday, October 15, 2017
Lectionary 28 – A.
Prayer of the Day
Lord of the feast, you have prepared a table before all peoples and poured out your life with abundance. Call us again to your banquet. Strengthen us by what is honorable, just, and pure, and transform us into a people of righteousness and peace, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Isaiah 25:1-9 The feast of victory
Philippians 4:1-9 Rejoice in the Lord always
Matthew 22:1-14 The parable of the unwelcome guest at the wedding feast
Title: The Gift of a Wedding
If you spend any time on Facebook and happened to see my post regarding last weekend, you know that between the vicar and I, we accomplished four weddings and a funeral. He had the funeral. I got to do the four weddings over four days. But it was the first wedding, the unexpected wedding, the unplanned wedding that delivered the best story.
Early Thursday afternoon I received a phone call from the administrator at the Lennox Hill Healthplex – the full service emergency room facility that is up 7th Ave. where St. Vincent’s hospital used to be. He explained that he had a rather strange request. Two current patients were a couple who, on their way to city hall to get married, were riding in a cab that got into an accident. They were there now, being attended to, and the hospital wanted to help them out by hosting a wedding there. Not knowing what I was getting myself into, I said sure. I would be up in about 20 minutes. He made it clear that this was not a medical emergency. No one was at death’s door. I could take my time.
When I got there they explained that the plastic surgeon had just arrived as well, so they would take care of sewing up the gash on the groom-to-be’s forehead and then we would take care of knitting his life to another’s with the ceremony. I was fine with that. Sat down and waited. Gave me a chance to put some thoughts together so that I could provide at least a short homily for the couple. As I set there the staff continued getting ready for this emergency room wedding. Someone had gone out and purchased a cake. Someone else got flowers, including a bouquet for the bride to carry. A photographer was brought in to document the blessed event. And everyone was scurrying around with big smiles on their faces. Made sense, in this place of pain, suffering, death even, here was an opportunity for an event of great joy.
I finally received word that the stitching was complete, and, if I wanted, I could meet the couple before the ceremony started. I said sure; thinking it would be good for them to know what the proceedings were going to look like. “Oh, and by the way”, (my escort started to say) “they are German.” What? Now you tell me they may not understand everything that I have just written, everything that I will say?
I walked into the examining bay and greeted them with a warm, “Guten Tag” – they smiled, but I quickly dashed their hopes when I told them that’s about as far as my high school German would take me in this situation. Long story short – it turns out the couple – Anja and Michael, would be leaving on a cruise the next day and they were hoping to have their license in hand when they set sail. I explained to them that when I send in their signed form it takes about four weeks for the couple to receive their license in the mail. A third person in the room, staff from the tour group they were traveling with, was not settling for this delay. He was determined that they would have their license in hand. I called Pastor Tiina (who does destination weddings here for Finnish couples all the time), and she tells me that she learned with her own wedding that if you do go to city hall, you can get the license right away.
We all looked at each other and no one was really saying it out loud in its entirety, even if we do the wedding there at the hospital, they would still have to go to city hall to get their same day license. The other thing that no one was saying was that we can’t tell the staff that they are not getting their wedding. The wedding they have all worked so hard for and are so looking forward to. With knowing smiles on all our faces, we agreed that we will go forward with the wedding and then they can take the completed form to city hall and hope they get a better taxi driver.
We came to the prepared area of the lobby. It filled with more staff than I ever could have imagined worked in that facility. I’m thinking a bus came down from the main Lennox Hill on the upper eastside loaded with staff turned into wedding guests.
Everyone is beaming. Michael and Anja are both thrilled and a little embarrassed by all the attention. After the ceremony everyone wants to have their picture taken with the happy couple. We enjoy the cake.
Now as I see it, my crazy wedding story links with Jesus’ crazy wedding in a few different places:
Like Anja and Michael, the king in the story (played by God in real life) and the bridegroom (Jesus, of course) do not need this big wedding celebration. God throws this party for our sake, so that we might be brought into love’s joy, so that we might taste and see that God is good, so that we might feast on the grace and mercy of God.
Like Anja and Michael, God comes into our place of pain, suffering, and death, and says, let’s have a party.
And the ones that come to God’s party are like the hospital staff at Michael and Anja’s. They didn’t deserve to share this happy occasion. They didn’t know these two strangers. They hadn’t watched them fall in love, grow in love, and plan a life of love. Like the guests in the story they were last minute guests, but they were thankful none the less to witness this expression of love.
And while it looked like the hospital staff did all the work, the reason for the party was still Michael and Anja and the love they brought to that hospital that day. For us, it is God’s gift of love that we celebrate. However, for us and God’s version of this wedding story, while we may think that we do all the work, the prophet Isaiah (in our first reading) describes God the caterer – and details the feast that God brings into our world everyday through mercy and grace, through Christ’s victory over death, and through the life-renewing power of the Spirit that is ours in baptism, and fed with this foretaste of the feast that is yet to come.
There is that troubling ending that Jesus puts on his wedding story. But that is just to remind us that we do not come to God’s party on our own merits, but entirely because God has invited us, redeemed us, and is sustaining us. Our wedding garments are provided by this gracious God and are made new in the cleansing blood of our Savior. Given in baptism, we are foolish not to put them on. We are foolish not to join the party.
As we explore and speak the truth of ourselves during this healing time this morning, let us do so knowing we are in the midst of God’s party – full of surprises, undeservedly invited, ridiculously joyous, and comfortingly never ending. So rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I say, rejoice!
The Rev. Mark Erson,