I told a friend today that weddings are the perfect pastoral occasion. When I lead a couple in their wedding celebration, I am participating in their story. Sometimes I tell them this. I say that I’m glad, honored to be a part of their narrative, to be a character in their tale.
Last Sunday I led Kynshasa and Ellen in their vows. Their wedding was in a place on Cermak, on the second floor of a brick-walled converted loft space. Everything was fun. Just the right balance of casual and expectation. When I arrived, I had to jab Kynshasa for setting up a microphone. I teased him and managed the tie under his neck. I greeted people I knew and people I didn’t. I hugged Ellen and asked if she needed anything. I told people to sit down and rest because the wedding would take a while. I was reminded why I love to be a pastor in such situations.
I love to interact with people’s families. I enjoy being able to say things, hopefully decorated with humor, to people who I’ll never meet on a Sunday morning. The music entertains me. Following people around as they awkwardly reintroduce themselves to old friends amuses me.
The ceremony itself is a treat. I feel like a pro. Thaddeus says that my old man comes out. I poke fun at people. I stray from the order of things. It’s a picture of the Christian life. Everybody has a perception of how things should be, an expectation that this is done and that isn’t. In the actual experience, very little is orderly.
After the ceremony, I get a kick out of listening to people say something nice about the ceremony, especially when they don’t really know how to compliment a pastor. It comes through because they make their compliment sound like a cross between what they’d say to an actor in a play and what they might say in a confessional.
At each moment in a wedding, I’m thinking to myself how the wedding is only a slice of what’s real. But it is really a slice of what is real. It isn’t everything, but it is usually true. There are people present who love the idea that the couple is finally doing this. Aunties are crying because they never thought little junior would settle down. There may be an ex somewhere in the crowd sizing up the scene and asking why they weren’t in the outfit on the stage. If there isn’t a drunk, something is wrong. People are late. Nothing goes according to the bride’s plan, and she hardly cares anyway.
All of that is real; all of it is an expression of those families crashing together. You can’t coat it brown sugar. You can’t change it. It’s there. And I get to sit right in it and point people to the source of love, the start of grace in the context of a marriage. I get to tell bright smiling brides and sweaty or cool grooms that what they have is an opportunity to love another on God’s behalf. I get to say that all the good that they feel for one another is a glimpse of all that God feels about them. I get to say that the lasting love they have for each other grasps for the unconditional love of God. I say other things. I tell them that life will suck, that they will suck, that marriage, if it’s anything , is a community of forgiveness.
I don’t change the wedding message much. That sermon is hardly spiced with fresh jokes. I’ve done more than twenty in the last four years alone. And I’ll probably stay as close as I can to the themes above, and I’m pretty sure I’ll keep enjoying every moment of each ceremony.