Think back to weddings in which you’ve had a part other than as the groom or bride. Think back to weddings where you have been some other member of the wedding party, or a relative of the bride or groom, or a friend, or where you were present as organist or altar guild member or photographer. Think back to one of those occasions when somebody else was getting married. For those of us in that position, the arrangements make a point about us that is obvious. In dozens of different ways they say to us: This is not about you.
Of course it’s not about us. It’s about them: the couple getting married. As the saying goes, it’s their day. The bride and groom are the human center of what’s happening. Not their parents, their attendants, their friends, their family. Not the priest or the musicians, the florists or the caterers, not even the junior bridesmaid scattering rosebuds down the church aisle. Their wedding is not about you, whomever you are. It’s about them.
Most of us know this without having to be told. We learned this at a tender age, and every wedding we’ve attended–unless we’ve been getting married ourselves–has reemphasized the point. We have this lesson down pretty well. Or have we?
Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a wedding. Not just any one, mind you, but a royal wedding where the handsome prince marries his beloved, and the king puts on the banquet to end all banquets.
And when Jesus starts talking about the kingdom of heaven, we need to recognize that life after death is only part of the picture. Jesus is talking about the reign of God and how it interferes with the way we live our lives.
There’s a problem, you see. The king sends out invitations to all the appropriate people. They accept, honored to be remembered by their sovereign. But the custom in that country is for the invitation issued months in advance to be followed up by another notice just before the event takes place.
Surprisingly, this second notice meets with rejection. People make jokes about it, even though it comes on paper headed by the royal crest. It seems that those invited have other things to do, deeds not evil, but ordinary. One tends to her farm. Another to her business. Perhaps a third decides that the drawer containing his socks is in urgent need of rearrangement.
This behavior sounds utterly foolish. Who would offend the king in this way and miss the party of a lifetime? But believe me, it happens often enough.
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We tear up the royal notice that summons us to a wedding. What wedding is that? The wedding of life. We refuse to recognize what should be obvious: that this wedding also is not about us. None of us is either bride or groom. It’s an honor we’re invited. We need to show up. The right time, the right place.
Often though we act as though life is not somebody else’s wedding. However we understand it, we assume life’s about us, that we’re the beginning and the end of the whole thing.
And so we decide to protect our lives. We become preoccupied with the past and what we have done, as well as the future and what we intend to do. We would rather stay on the farm, or devote all our time to business, than go to a party at the palace.
And what’s the reason for our strange choice? When we keep to the ordinary grind, we can maintain the impression, at least for ourselves, that it’s all about us. When we accept the invitation, get ready for the banquet and go, then we must admit that we are guests, and the wedding is somebody else’s.
To stay stuck in the usual rut may seem productive and responsible, but it amounts to self protection, a way to keep claiming that it’s all about us.
Faith points us in a different direction. We recognize, often joyously, that it’s not about us. The wedding is somebody else’s, and we’re fortunate to be on any version of the guest list. It’s not about us, and that’s worth celebrating.
Faith means we no longer need to protect our lives. Our host is more than generous. We don’t have to stay in our rut; we can climb out and join the fun.
The faith of Christians is based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The wedding’s not about us. The wedding belongs to Christ and his bride. We show up at the banquet, and the prince has wounded hands. Jesus has not protected his life; he has offered it, and his Father’s blessing is the resurrection.
Walter Bouman, who for decades taught at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, died in 2005 of inoperable cancer. Earlier that year he had received the news that he had only a few months to live. Someone who knew him well remarked that his dying was “faithful, worldly, wise and marked with humor.”
In one of his final sermons, Bouman spoke about the freedom of the Christian:
“The resurrection of Jesus Christ frees us,” he announced, “to do more with our lives than protect them. We are free to offer them. We are called to love the world, to want clean air and water for everyone, to give ourselves to the service of peace instead of blindly following our leaders in senseless wars, to commit to the cause of justice, especially when our institutions and our country are guilty of injustice. This is a big order. But you are free to pursue it by the resurrection of Christ, who has put an end to the dominion of death. We are free for the battle because the victory is already won.”
[Quoted in John M. Buchanan, “Teaching Moments,” Christian Century, September 20, 2005, p. 3.]
Do you hear that, my friends, a dying man’s witness to the resurrection? He is not afraid. Nor do we need to be afraid. We are free for the battle because already the victory is won. We need not stay in any small rut where we imagine it’s all about us. Instead we can climb out, get dressed in the splendid duds the king provides us, and walk into the wedding reception, rejoicing, yes rejoicing, that it’s not about us, though a place awaits us at the banquet table among those free enough to offer their lives.
The prince with wounded hands has sent me to welcome you to his marriage feast at this altar and in this world. It’s not about us. For that may we give thanks!
— Copyright for this sermon 2007, The Rev. Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission. Fr. Hoffacker is an Episcopal priest and the author of “A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals,” (Cowley Publications).