Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Wine of Weddings

Photo: Lori Branham-flickr Kjunstorm (CC By 2.0)

"In wine one beholds the heart of another" 

- Anonymous


My husband and I attended a wedding in May of this year.  For months our oldest daughter and son-in-law had been helping their two friends prepare for this major life event. Having celebrated their own marriage recently, they were eager to return the overwhelming love and support that had been shown to them in the weeks and months leading up to their "big day."

I remember it well.  The day began similar to this one--rainy, but much colder.   I had always envisioned Kayla's wedding day bright with sunshine, but we woke up that morning to gray clouds and a spritzing of snow.  It didn't seem to dampen anyone's spirits--we had prayed for God's peace and joy to rest upon us.  And He did.

The wedding took place at St. Paul's, a massive stone church built by Irish immigrants 100 years earlier.  I had never been in the building prior to the rehearsal.  But it was beautiful.  

And as we approached, two old and heavy wooden doors invited us into the celebration.  They were hung with huge grapevine wreaths, covered with a delicate mix of green and pink hydrangea, roses, and Hyperion berries.  Their long ivory ribbons danced on the wind and reached out to welcome guests.  We ran in our heels and gowns, eager to get out of the cold, misty rain.

I remember how warm the interior felt, not just in temperature or because of the number of people--and there were lots--but in the atmosphere.  The vaulted, medieval-style cathedral was pregnant with anticipation and joy and something else, something that eluded our grasp like a butterfly fluttering away and daring us to catch it.  It was an invitation to take part in something bigger than we were, something divine and other-worldly.  Nick and Kayla radiated with the joy of it.

The same warm presence waited for us at the reception following the ceremony.  Candlelight, flowers and wedding pictures of parents and grandparents in vintage frames greeted us in the elegantly decorated hall.  We clapped as the bridal party--including our younger two beautiful daughters--made their appearance.  People commented how beautiful and intimate the day was, in spite of the frigid weather.  It was a wedding designed for a Princess.  

I saw everywhere a reflection of Kayla, in the smallest detail--from the gorgeous flowers cascading down the sides of Eiffel Tower vases in the table centers, to the bejeweled "A" wedding cake topper she made herself, to the Steeler Terrible Towel groom's cake she picked out for Nick.   Her touch was on everything.  And I saw God-- in so many of even the smallest details.  I realized how the One who created us, and lives within us, was there among us.

So here we were again, in another time and and another place seven months later--just across the street from where Kayla and Nick were married--attending the wedding of two of their best friends.  Another old stone church with vaulted ceilings and bright, stained glass windows, it could barely hold the friends and family, neighbors and co-workers who came, eager to witness the marriage of this couple.

My husband and I sat two pews back on the groom's side.  Candles flickered.  The familiar scent of hydrangeas and pink roses wafted from the altar.  A violinist began to play as the groom and his friends--my son-in-law included--all handsome in their black tuxes and clean shaven faces, walked across in front of us.  I couldn't help but be affected by the wall of masculine strength and solidarity that stood next to Andy, supporting him and the woman he loved.

I watched faces as one by one the bridesmaids walked from under the Gothic arch at the back of the church.  Each woman was uniquely beautiful and smiling expectantly as she carried her bouquet toward the front altar.  

I looked at Kayla and remembered her own walk down the aisle on the arm of my husband, she a stunning beauty, and he, quite handsome in his tux.  She was Daddy's girl for 25 years, but now was all grown up and joined to another.   I was so proud that day.  I wondered what she was thinking now as she waited for Brittney.

A pause in the music interrupted my thoughts.  The organist sounded the call for all to stand.  And there she was, radiant, glowing, gorgeous.  The room brightened as we watched Brittney take her final steps as a single woman, leaning lovely into the strength of her father.  Andrew, with love in his eyes and tears rolling down his cheeks, couldn't take his eyes from her as she kissed her Dad good-bye and walked to him.  

I got stuck in that moment.  All through the ceremony--in their taking hands and pledging vows, exchanging rings, and giving themselves to each other before God and guests--I couldn't lose the picture of Andy's face when he saw his bride.  I wondered if God looks at us like that--with tears in His eyes.  

Love.  Marriage.  Friendship.  Family relationships.  He gave us these wonderful gifts through which we can know Him, just like we know each other--as Father, Mother, Friend, Sister, Husband Brother.  Yes, we have much to celebrate!
The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.  ~Matthew 22:2
Brittney's and Andrew's reception was almost as special as Nick's and Kayla's.  We ate the same Chicken Cordon Bleu and wedding cake, made champagne toasts to the bride and groom, and danced to Your are so Beautiful--like we were the ones just married.  As a thank-you for attending, Brittney and Andrew gave each guest a miniature bottle of red wine with their names, the date, May 16, 2010, and the inscription, "Love is Forever," printed on the label.  I brought ours home to open later--along with a bag of extra cookies for the girls--and thought of another wedding wine.  I am not sure of the vintage, but Scripture tells the story of it.

Jesus and his mother and disciples were invited to a wedding in Cana of Galilee.  Sometime during the festivities--chalk it up to poor planning on the Groom's part, or maybe the guests were drinking more than usual that night, whatever the case--they ran out of vino.  And for some reason, Jesus' mother put him in charge of getting more.  

Jesus was hesitant.  After all, He was only a guest, not the groom.  He asked his mother why she thought this was any of their business.  He reminded her that "his time" had not yet come, alluding to a future wedding when He would welcome His own bride into the house of His Father, and pour out a deluge of spiritual wine--the living water of the Holy Spirit--onto all flesh in the celebration of it.

Jesus thought about the symbolism of what He was being asked to do, and heard in his spirit the Father giving him the go ahead to work his first miracle.   What could be more perfect than a wedding to demonstrate the radical reality change that was coming to these friends he loved?   He knew that religion was about to take a backseat to relationship as the way to connect with God.   

Union with The Divine--on earth as it is in heaven.  In only a few minutes this group of guests would experience a dimension of joy they couldn't achieve by drinking more wine.  They were going to see up close and personally how the Kingdom of Heaven crashes a party!

This is where the story gets a little crazy.  Jesus told the servants to refill the pots that normally contained water for religious ritual washings--the ones where guests dipped their hands before eating as a sign to all around that they were clean.   Jesus chose one of the servants to draw some water and take it to the master of the banquet to taste.  What a brave guy he was!  I am sure there must have been more than a little fear mixed with his faith as he lifted that cup for his supervisor to drink.   

His reward was amazement as he watched his master swirl, sniff, sip, and savor the new wine, and then look up in astonishment.  How could it be that the groom had saved the best for last?

Jesus' first miracle was a bold statement that most likely offended religious guests who symbolically used the water to wash their hands of sin.  Their holy water was now wedding wine, a symbol of joy and the drink of choice for celebrating life and relationship.  For us, it would be like the changing of our baptismal water into a pool of Jello shots.  No wonder the religious leaders hated him! 

No wonder I love him so!  In addition to attending weddings--and all the other family celebrations of this past year--I have realized a new freedom in Christ that tastes like I went from drinking old wash water to the sweetest of wines.   Words cannot describe the emotion of it.   But I'll try.  Joy bubbling up like a fountain!  Peace rolling like a river!  Love engulfing me like an ocean!  God is filling my soul.

I realize I no longer need to run after God because I am with Him where He is.  I no longer have to bow to a false spiritual covering because He has covered me with His love.  I no longer have to perform meaningless religious rituals because I have been washed in the blood of the Lamb.  I no longer have to worship God from afar because the kingdom of heaven is within me--I am seated with Christ on the Mercy Seat of my heart.   I no longer have to strive to earn God's approval because--well, because I don't.  I already have it

Back to Andy's tears.  The reason I got stuck in that moment is because God wanted to communicate something with me, something that totally blew my religious thinking out the window.  When Jesus saw me coming to Him--He looked at me like Nick did at Kayla, and Andrew did at Brittney, and he wept.  Then he laughed.  And so did I.  Now we celebrate life together as one.  Just like marriage, heaven touches earth.  The kingdom comes.  And we live happily ever after.  Selah.

Matthew 22:2  as taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. As found on Bible Gateway.

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