Strike Up the Band!

Before a Lutheran pastor performs a marriage for a couple, he or she must insist that the couple receives marriage counseling. The pastor, a colleague, or a licensed counselor can perform the counseling, but it must be done.
We believe it to be a valuable opportunity, and absolutely necessary for the couple to look beyond the DAY of their ceremony (which receives all the attention of Bride Magazine, the “Say Yes to the Dress” type TV shows, and the Marital-Industrial Complex) and to prepare for a strong marriage:
To discuss communication, conflict resolution, and financial management; relationship roles, spiritual beliefs, and marital expectations.
The goal of pre-marital counseling is simple: to give the couple skills to help them in their coming life together.
Like many of my colleagues, I use a resource called “Prepare-Enrich,” which makes use of an inventory – a 500-question survey – sent to the couple by email. The Bride-To-Be and the Groom-To-Be each fill out the questions on their own, without consulting one another.
When I receive their answers and the inventory’s findings I get together with the couple for conversation.
To the couple’s surprise, this process is often illuminating.
For one thing, the inventory measures, without asking explicitly, each individual’s stress level and, specifically, what the CAUSES of stress are in their relationship.
Recently I was with a couple in my office going over the results of their inventory.
I shared with the bride-to-be that the inventory found her stress level to be very high and that the causes of her stress were:
Decisions about wedding details, feeling overwhelmed by wedding details, financial concerns related to the wedding, a lack of time for exercise, sleep, family, and self, because of wedding planning, and a concern over who was going to pay for the wedding. I asked if this sounded right, and she said that it did.
I shared with the groom-to-be that that the inventory found his stress level to be very high and that the cause of his stress was his fiancé’s stress. I asked if this sounded right, and he said that it did.
The stakes may have been EVEN HIGHER in the 1st century. Just like today, there was tremendous social pressure to have a glamorous wedding, for guests to enjoy themselves, and to have things go right – except of course, that in the first century a wedding typically lasted not one, or two, or even three days, but seven days.
Imagine the sheer mountain of details that would have to go into a celebration of that length! And then imagine that half-way though the celebration all of your plans began to unravel!
This couple in Cana find themselves in real trouble.
All their friends, all their family, and all the town has gathered, and halfway through their marriage feast, someone comes to the groom and whispers in his ear: Sir, I don’t know how to tell you this, but the wine is….gone.
“It can’t be true!” the groom thinks. He wants to hide under a table. How can he look anyone in the eye? He wants to leave and not come back – maybe with his wife – maybe not – because he is too embarrassed to face even her!
For the Hebrew of the 1st century, wine was absolutely, unconditionally, totally and completely necessary to a celebration of any kind.
So for this wedding party to run out of wine…it is truly a disgrace to this family, an embarrassment to these friends… and what was supposed to be the happiest day of this couple’s life has turned into their most humiliating moment. It is an unsalvageable situation…
Except that Jesus has been invited.
Jesus calls for six very large stone jars to be filled with water – twenty to thirty gallons each – and says their contents are to be drawn out and served.
When the chief steward – the head waiter – tastes what has become wine he is so impressed he can’t help but call for the groom to compliment him! Why wasn’t THIS wine served first?! There certainly was enough of it to have served it from the start – more than 150 gallons!
Everything has changed for this groom. He won’t have to hide under the table after all! He won’t have to leave his own wedding. His family and friends won’t have to hide their faces under a cloud of shame, but can let their faces shine brightly with pride to be present on this great and joyous, happy day.
Strike up the band! Everyone on the dancefloor!
The scene of this wedding is significant because Jesus turning water into wine reveals his GLORY, to his disciples and to everyone who hears and sees it.
But water being turned to wine is simply the SIGN of the TRULY miraculous thing which is happening:
The miracle is that HERE, sitting at this table, is God’s-Priceless-Love…in-Person. Here is the One who sets God’s own abundant feast and offers drink from the river of God’s delights.
This miraculously-manifested festive drink is a SIGN that Jesus can take what seems like an unsalvageable situation and offer new possibilities…
A sign that in Jesus, God has come into the world for us.
And so we are invited to GIVE Jesus our lives, our most unsalvageable problems, our shame, and our embarrassment.
In return, Jesus offers us new life. He offers us a new beginning. He surprises us with what is possible.
My guess is, Jesus could have chosen anywhere for the scene of the first sign he would use to reveal himself as the Son of God. But the location Jesus does choose tells us more about what it MEANS that he is the Son of God.
It points us of the Prophet Isaiah’s words:
“For the LORD delights in you…
As a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, as a groom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”
Friends, hear this:
In Jesus Christ, God rejoices over YOU. God delights in YOU. Jesus comes as a husband who joins us into a community, which he takes as his bride.
There is so much in our world, and in our lives, that can rob us of the opportunity to live in communion with God. At times, we may fear that there will not be enough for our families and ourselves. We may at times live in anxiety over the politics of our country and the mess of the world. We may, at times, be captive to our own self-absorbtion…
But if we’re willing and we’re open, God longs to live intimately with us.
God desires to hear our prayers. God wishes for us to remain in his embrace. God is willing to die for us, so that we might live with him and have a new beginning.
Marriage is the best image for how God wants to be in relationship with us because in marriage, two become one.
Just as a lock and a key are one mechanism,
Just as a violin and a bow are one instrument,
A husband and wife are one flesh…
And in Jesus Christ, God has come to live that closely with us – to be married to us and to be joined with us.
In the water of Baptism, we are joined to Jesus Christ forever, as he pours his abundant love over us, as he touches us with mercy; and as he embraces us forever.
In Holy Communion, God sets a table for us and offers a sign of the lengths to which he will go for us, because when his hour comes and he prepares for the cross he will say to us:
This is my body, given for you.
This is my cup is the new covenant in my blood, for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin.
Yes, marriage is the best image for how God wants to be in relationship with us because in marriage, two become one.
In our country there are an untold number of websites, magazines, and TV shows which are a sign of the importance our culture places on the wedding day. On average, in the US, each year, people getting married spend an average of $18K and a combined total of 45 million dollars on this one, single day. No doubt, these celebrations are beautiful, but they can’t last. In the end there are just pictures and memories.
Beyond this life, God prepares a wedding banquet for us that does not end.
Our God of infinite love offers us himself to us, and walks with us through our whole life on this earth and beyond, to the world we cannot yet see and experience…but where we know we will see the glory of God face to face.
On that great and joyous, happy Day, we will say: strike up the band! Everyone on the dance floor!

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