My job has many delightful moments–leading the children in the dismissal each week, explaining documentary hypothesis to new Episcopalians, preaching. And this past week, I got to participate in one of my more favorite fun moments–marrying two of my more active parishioners.
They told me early on that they wanted to invite the whole parish to their wedding, since St. Paul’s had been so important to their lives. And they wanted to hold the reception here at the church–which turned out to be an inauguration of the newly renovated parish hall. And so it was that most of the parish family turned out for a wedding of two of our own.
See, weddings (when you’re the officiant) can go one of two ways–they can be anxiety fests of stress and misery, where every decision is agonized over and every detail is scrutinized because everyone knows that you are spending the equivalent of a college education on this one day in your life–or weddings can be joyous celebrations of two people and their relationship and your need to dance to bad disco.
This one was the latter.
Here is what I said for the sermon. (More or less–I wrote it down, but then didn’t look at the paper at all. So while I think I hit all the points, I also think I used different words. But this is the general idea/flow/mise en scene.)
So, there are some traditional readings for weddings. Some Bible readings that are always done–a Greatest Hits of Wedding Readings, if you will.
Romans 8–that’s a big favorite. This section of Ruth–Where you go, I will go–very popular. 1 Corinthians 13: love is patient, love is kind–that’s practically the “My Heart Will Go On” of wedding readings.
Know what’s not a well-known wedding reading?
Jesus and the centurion. It is on none of the Wedding Pop Charts–and yet when I met with them, this is the reading Jonathan and Chris were really set on.
And for good reason, because this story is amazing. It is a hidden, underappreciated gem, is what it is.
Jesus is headed to Capernaum, hanging out with the disciples as per usual, when a local centurion comes up and asks him to help one of his slaves. The slave is about to die, and the centurion is upset, so he intercedes on his behalf with Jesus. “Look, Jesus,” he says, “you don’t even have to come into my house–just do the thing from a distance and it will be enough.”
This impresses Jesus immensely and he heals the centurion’s slave.
Now, see, when I tell it like that, it may not sound that amazing–sick guy gets healed–not unexpected, and still confusing for a wedding.
But here’s what’s interesting about this story. This centurion didn’t act how you would expect a centurion to act. This guy’s a big deal–he’s in charge of all the Roman troops that occupy the town. The Jewish leaders even intercede for him with Jesus, saying “This guy’s not so bad–he built our synagogue for us! Please ignore the imperialist tendencies of his people.”
And there’s what he said about his slave. Centurions didn’t go around begging for the lives of their slaves. Slavery back then was….well, slavery. If a slave died, it was sad, but the owner moved on–you didn’t start calling up faith healers. But what’s odd about this is the language the centurion uses. In Greek, he doesn’t say the slave is well-liked, or good at his job–what he says is that the slave is precious to him. That’s very different. The Greek word used here is more indicative of a romantic relationship than a working on. The centurion is asking Jesus to heal someone he loves.
And Jesus does.
So the miracle of this story is not so much that the centurion’s slave is healed–the miracle of the story–the part that is really transformative–is that Jesus sees and accepts the centurion and his slave for who they are. Not individuals who believe the wrong things, hold the wrong jobs, come from the wrong place, love the wrong people–but as children of God, beloved by God.
And look–this right here is why the church blesses marriage. Not so we get all cozy with the government, and not out of some weird obsession with procreation.
We bless marriages in the church because we really believe that in these sorts of dedicated, faithful, lifelong relationships, we can see a glimpse of the sort of love God has for us. And we want to hold that up as special.
We believe that in marriage, we can see the sort of love that accepts us unconditionally, that sees us as we are, that heals us and brings us home. That’s what we want to bless in marriage–in any sort of relationship that offers that sort of love.
And so, Chris and Jonathan, we are gathered here today to bless your union because we know that in your relationship, you offer us a glimpse of that healing accepting love of Christ. In the way you lift each other up, and complement each other. In the way you forgive each other and support one another. You show us how God in Christ loves us. And you, through your relationship, heal the world a little bit more.