Monday, November 10, 2008

making a home (a wedding homily)

On October 25,2008 Jonathan Steele and Taryn Anderson got married in McAllen, Texas. I was honored to officiate the ceremony. What follows is the text of my short homily. Jonathan and Taryn: Congratulations! I am so happy for you! Love, Troy

Making a Home
a homily by Troy Cady

Today marks the day in which the two of you begin making a home together. No doubt both of you have made preparations for moving in together.

I remember preparing for my wedding day. (Yes, I can remember back that far!) We had many things to think about as we prepared to make a home together. We bought some used furniture from my wife’s ex-boss who happened to be a librarian and whose style matched her wild vocation. We bought a brown and tan tartan-patterned couch, a coffee table, and a kitchen table with chairs, all dated circa 1978, I suppose. I also had the fortune of a generous future father-in-law. He bought us a white Amana microwave that was just as large and durable as a soldier’s travel trunk. We laid it to rest to the sound of “Taps” only about a year ago, sniff. At any rate, when our wedding day came, we felt ready to make our home together.

A home, however, is so much more than its furnishings and preparing to make one involves more than purchasing 21st century essentials. Isaiah the prophet says that God wants your home to be “a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and the rain.” He says that this shelter and shade is to be a “canopy.”

Now, the prophet Isaiah didn’t speak English. The word he actually used was “chuppah”. Some of us may already know what a chuppah is. The chuppah has been used for many centuries in Jewish weddings. It is, literally, a canopy upheld by four posts under which a man and woman are married. Jonathan and Taryn, today you will exchange vows underneath a chuppah.

If we were to conduct this wedding in accordance with ancient Jewish customs, the chuppah would be placed under the open sky (like it is today), signifying that the bride and groom wish their home to be governed by heavenly ideals. Further, the chuppah, as a symbolic home, would have no sides, no walls (just like this chuppah), to signify hospitality--a home where all are welcome, no matter from what direction they come. The chuppah, like this one, would also have no furniture under it to show that home consists of people, not things. Underneath the chuppah the bride (and today in some Jewish weddings, the groom also) would walk or dance circles around their future spouse, signifying their desire to surround their spouse with love, attention, joy and gladness. Vows would be made and finally, seven blessings would be pronounced, using a cup of wine as a visual motif. After the seventh blessing, the cup would then be smashed underfoot, signifying that, just as a broken glass cannot be made unbroken again, so may the relationship of this man and woman never return to its previous state.

In the Bible, the word “chuppah” is used only 3 times but there are many ideas that are closely associated with it. It can mean canopy, chamber, closet, and even defense. It is associated with words like shadow, shade, refuge and blessing. The image of a chuppah is also connected with the tabernacle or temple, the special place where God’s people would meet with God and find in God their ultimate home and resting place. The idea is this: to live in God’s shadow, to abide in God’s presence, is to receive God’s blessing. It is to make God himself your home, to have God as your shield and defender, your help in times of trouble.

The greatest love poem ever written, The Song of Solomon, suggests the idea of a covering, sheltering chuppah when the Beloved says: “I delight to sit in his shade and his fruit is sweet to my taste. He has taken me to his banquet hall, and his banner over me is love.” The Beloved goes on to say that in this place she is “faint with love.” She tells us that it is in this place that “his left arm is under my head and his right arm embraces me”, calling forth images of intimate sexual relations.

In the safety and protection of a chuppah a man and woman are free, free to enjoy each other, free and unafraid to enjoy God and the abundance of his blessings. And God enjoys the man and woman, so there is no reason to be afraid--after all, it is God himself who is their covering. The chuppah as the very presence and covering of God, is the shade under which is found delight and sweet fruit. The chuppah is like a “banquet hall”, Solomon says, where we can feast under the singular banner of love. And, in actuality, the banquet hall is not just any kind of banquet hall: it is, literally, a “house of wine.” In fact, the word used here (yayin) is used 133 other times in the Scriptures and in every other instance it is translated “wine”.

So, keep this in mind, please: your home (that is, your chuppah) is to be from first to last a house of wine. Now, I’m not saying your home is to be marked by carousing drinking parties and drunkenness! No, what I mean is that wine and God’s covering are inseparable. Here’s why:

Think of the chuppah as God’s embrace. The chuppah is your home. It is the refuge of God, the surrounding presence of God. It is God’s embrace.

It is also the place where you embrace one another and a place where outsiders find embrace. It is a place that both surrounds with love and is itself surrounded by love.

Question: when you want to embrace someone, what do you have to do? You have to stretch out your arms.

And when God wanted to gather us back into his arms in love, making his very self our new home and refuge, what did he do? He opened up his arms on the cross, as wide as they could possibly go, so that he could take all our sin upon himself, so that he could take every one of us just as we are into his loving embrace.

Jesus literally became “faint with love” by giving us all he had to give, even his very life-blood. And, simply by faith in Jesus, we too can, like the Beloved in Solomon’s song, lie under the shadow of his tree, the cross, and eat the fruit of forgiveness which is, indeed, sweet to our taste. This is why, on the eve of his crucifixion, he told us that the sign of his life-blood from thenceforth would be a cup of wine, over which blessings were pronounced and through which forgiveness was offered. The wine signified the blood of an innocent sacrificial lamb that died on behalf of the guilty ones, reminding the Jewish people of their greatest festival, Passover, in which the people of God were passed over by the angel of death because they had spread the blood of a lamb on their doorposts. And now, still today, when we drink the wine as a sign of our faith in the forgiveness of Christ, each man and woman is reconciled to God by that faith, gathered up to him once again in his chuppah, his tabernacle, his covering.

The prophet Joel tells us that, outside this place of divine protection, safety and provision (that is, outside this “house of wine”) the locusts eat up that which gives us sustenance. But, within the covering of God’s love chamber, God’s house of wine, the very Lover of our souls is able to restore that which was eaten away by our sin.

Jonathan and Taryn, you need only one thing to make a home together. You will not need a microwave or a coffee table. The only thing you will need is wine. But not just any wine. You will need vintage 34 A.D, the wine that signifies the joy that Christ’s death and resurrection provide and the hope that his second coming instills.

You yourselves know first-hand the way faith in Christ changes a life. You know that outside this house of wine, locusts eat away our very lives bit by bit. You know the pain, sorrow and utter despair that come with that kind of life. But the good news is: you yourselves have experienced that we but need to return to God who covers us in his grace. We but need to return, like prodigal sons and daughters, humble, with hearts rent, convinced that in Christ and Christ alone we may find our true and eternal home. You know first-hand that when someone, anyone returns to him, our Savior spies that someone coming from a long way off, because yes, the fields have been eaten, but, yes, he is looking out his window, waiting on his porch for the first glimpse of his Beloved’s return. And when he saw you, but a speck on the horizon, he came running, running, running out of his home as fast as he could to gather you in his arms like a farmer gathers his new grain with gladness and he takes you into his home to celebrate with feasting and dancing and joy, gladness and laughter. You are in God’s home now, you need no lamps because he himself is your light. And though you came weary, hungry and thirsty, in God you found rest, shelter, provision and wine, wine, a fountain of wine.

And so, you shall make a home together with but one material: the limitless grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. And you shall be glad this night, for together you shall make a home in God. You shall lie together and His left arm shall be under your head and His right arm shall embrace you, even as you embrace one another. You shall dwell in everlasting love and find strength and shelter. You shall drink the wine of gladness under your chuppah. And others who come into your home shall be glad as well. This night and in these days to come there shall be dancing. So rest now, just rest, you need not fear anymore, for what the locusts had eaten has been restored. Amen.