Making vows before God … embracing one another and toasting to life – here and beyond. The kind of hope that lay beneath David’s and my vows to each other last December – words that we live by every day. Many of you know that last December I again took marriage vows to love … till death do us part. I had lost two husbands to death … David had also lost his wife of 50-plus years to death … and yet – we pledged … ”for better or worse, in sickness and in health … till death do us part.”
Interestingly, just recently I ran across two meditative pieces about making those same vows before God – one by M. Craig Barnes in a recent issue of The Christian Century (“A Glimpse of Cana,” Aug. 28, 2019; see second photo below), and one by Martin Copenhaver in his fine little book, The Gospel in Miniature. Barnes’ writing was a reflection on the joy of witnessing his children making those vows in their twenties – with such joy and hope, but before really they could fully understand all the consequences of life that stretched out before them. It was Copenhaver’s piece, however, that brought tears to my eyes because it hit squarely home as David and I set out on the rest of life’s journey together.
Copenhaver starts off by noting that he actually loves to officiate at second marriages. He observes that of course you cannot have a second marriage “without the first ending either in death or divorce, two of the saddest realities of all.” I have also experienced as clergy what he points out. That those who have been married before are really less interested in all the frills and trappings of first marriages – where the reception will be held, what the bridesmaids are going to wear, the fuss of rehearsal dinners and so on. He writes:
When someone who could not, or would not, stay in a previous marriage stands up before others and promises to another “for better or for worse,” those words take on added resonance. It is clear what is at stake. Or when someone whose first spouse has died utters the words “as long as we both shall live” to another, the vow seems all the more precious. There is no escaping the profound implications of what is going on here. (p. 203)
And what is going on here is hope – hope in the future, hope in each other, hope in God’s grace to carry them … and us … through.
Last Sunday, I preached at St. Martin’s. At the center of that sermon was a chapter written by Milton Brasher-Cunningham in his wonderful book titled Keeping the Feast (Morehouse Publishing, 2012; see lead photo). In one chapter he calls “Life Markers,” Cunningham – chef, pastor, musician, writer – focuses on the meaning of communion. At the heart of that chapter is a song he and a friend wrote in the 1980s called “Day That was Coming.” They wrote the lyrics while Mandela was still in prison and the Berlin Wall still stood. That song sprang from a story his friend had told Milton while they were in seminary together. They had wanted to write a song about communion. And late one night, his friend told him about one communion he had had with his students. Milton writes:
As I remember, they were reading the account of the Last Supper where Jesus poured the wine and then said, “I will not drink this cup again until I drink it new with you in the Kingdom.” As Ken finished reading, one of his students raised her glass and said, “Well here’s to the Day!” and the rest of the group returned the toast and then they all drank together.
Milton writes that when his friend told him that story, he wrote down that student’s words and came up with the song title. He says “there’s more to that meal than the betrayal that must have marked that night in the Upper Room. ’Cause he says, “this side of the Resurrection, our deep memory also calls us to profound hope as we remember why we are eating and why we are drinking together, and Who we are waiting for to join us once again. So we dream out loud of a better world to come.”
Milton sees eating together as a kind-of communion, sharing bread and wine together as a metaphor for God’s inclusive kingdom … as a foretaste of Kingdom come. Like Jesus, he makes the case that you and I can also experience that coming Kingdom when we embrace each other around the dinner table, when we cook for each other, when we raise a toast to the life God’s blessed us with.
So the song “Day That was Coming” was not just about Jesus’ words, but also about bringing hope to those on the edge who still suffer now. In our own time, that includes the Syrians on all sides of that sad land, the Hongkongers who march for justice and freedom, the destitute in the Bahamas … the poor in our own neighborhoods. In my sermon last Sunday, I included the following lines from the song:
Can you say it for the ones whose voices are silenced?
Can you say it for the ones who’ve never been free?
Can you fill this cup, raise it up?
Here’s to the day that’s promised,
God speed that day …
Gather in close now, cling to each other.
Sing to the night, you don’t sing alone.
Fill this cup, raise it up.
Here’s to the day – remember! (p. 78)
I do believe that song is basically about hope. About embracing one another and toasting to life – here and beyond. The same kind of hope that lay beneath David’s and my vows to each other last December – words that we live by every day. Copenhaver ends his piece on second marriages with the words, “I believe in the God of second chances, a God who takes the raw stuff of death or defeat and breathes new life into it.”
We go … and live on in hope … to the end.
Here’s to the day!