As I walked past the kitchen table, I saw that my husband-the-deacon was organizing a wedding file. Though he’d reviewed this paperwork several times over the past few months, Mike was rechecking the documents needed for the wedding which he’d witness the following day. The couple involved had begun planning more than a year ago. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has seen to it that almost every detail of their plans has had to be adjusted. The bride’s and groom’s bridal party has shrunken to themselves and two witnesses. Their guest list, which once included two hundred family members and friends, has been whittled down to twenty. Only the bride and groom will be “mask-less” during the ceremony. Their deacon and everyone else will be in full pandemic garb! The good news is that this couple continues to be very excited and very happy about their marriage in spite of the adjustments they’ve had to make. The rest of the good news is that this couple has renewed Mike’s hope –and my own- in better things to come for us all.
Perhaps this is the reason that, whenever I attend a wedding, tears trickle down my cheeks throughout the ceremony. Some are elicited by memories of my own wedding. My thoughts just before I walked down the aisle and throughout our ceremony remain a vivid memory. When I witness another couple exchanging their promises to love, honor and cherish each other, the successes of our marriage bring tears of joy. At the same time, these happy tears are tempered a bit by memories of my failures in this regard. At every wedding I attend, I follow these tearful bouts with three prayers. I pray that the newly married couple will not be discouraged by the failures that are a part of all of our relationships. I pray that these two will hold on to the love which brought them together and that they will continue to nurture it. Finally, I pray that they will discover the art of keeping joy alive every day that they share. My dear husband and I have managed to stay together for more than forty years mostly due to our feeble attempts at all of this.
I share these wedding reflections because we have much to learn from our experiences within marriage and within all of our relationships. Even when marriages fail and special friendships come to an end, they mirror the journeys on this earth which will take us home to God. We fall in love with our ideal partners or kindle friendships with those we care for with the expectation of a sharing our lives with one another. Unfortunately, because we’re human, we meet many obstacles along the way. When we encounter rocks on our paths, forks in the road and washed away bridges, we work together to recalculate our route and to carry on. When we navigate the paths of our relationships and of our journeys toward the hereafter, we reassess, regroup and try again all along the way. That couple who adjusted their wedding day details a few weeks ago unwittingly prepared themselves for the numerous bumps that they’ll encounter as they navigate life together and life in this world. It seems to me that this is the point of what Jesus has to say about all of our journeys and about God’s love for us.
Today, Matthew’s gospel (21: 28-32) presents one of Jesus’ parables which addressed all of this. On this occasion, Jesus spoke of a vineyard owner who had two sons. On the day in question, the man asked the first son he encountered to work his vineyard. This son refused in no uncertain terms. Fortunately, he thought better of his response to his father and fulfilled his request. This son went out to the vineyard and put in a full day’s work. When the man asked his second son to work, the young man immediately agreed to do so. However, that son had simply told his father what the man wanted to hear. He never went out to the fields and never lifted a finger to help.
After sharing this story, Jesus asked those listening which young man did his father’s will. Those present agreed that the son who worked was the righteous one, in spite of his initial response. Ah, “in spite of his initial response!” Fortunately for us all, Jesus recognized that failure at one time or another is inevitable. Jesus also recognized that our opportunity to turn things around is also inevitable. When Jesus remarked that tax collectors and prostitutes would enter the kingdom of heaven, he wasn’t condoning their sinfulness. Rather, he condoned what they did after they’d engaged in their wrong-doing. In spite of their sketchy pasts, those tax collectors and prostitutes took Jesus’ message to heart. They reassessed, regrouped and tried again. Jesus assured all concerned that this is all God asks of any of us.
I admit that I enjoy being on the fringes when my dear husband prepares for and witnesses weddings. Though the good deacon bears the brunt of the paperwork, marriage prep and wedding planning, I’m privy to the joy and the hope which come with witnessing the commitments of these couples. When they promise their love for a lifetime, they are also promising to reassess, to regroup and to try again whenever necessary all along their way. Like Jesus’ parable, these couples remind me and all of us that this is all any of us can hope for: To do our best, to acknowledge our errors, to make amends when we fail and to know, regardless of how often we repeat this process, that God loves us. Whenever we fail, God loves us and encourages us to try, try again…
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