Trusting the love

As a pastor, I often found myself in a position to educate people about Christian traditions, ceremonies and history. Those opportunities often came when I was helping people prepare for the rites and sacraments of the church. Working with couples preparing to marry was usually a real opportunity to take a familiar ceremony and help the participants understand the deep underlying meaning that comes from participating in a tradition that began long before we were born.

Our traditional rites and ceremonies are filled with all kinds of elements that have come from outside of the church. In a wedding, for example, there are two sets of vows, often recognized by those planning a wedding as the “I do” vows and the “Repeat after me” vows. The first set, the vows of intention, ask the couple if they have come to the ceremony of their own free will and if they accept their mate as spouse. The second set are promises of fidelity and endurance of the relationship. The tradition of exchanging two sets of vows comes from a time when there were two ceremonies: a civil ceremony, often taking place in a place of governance, such as a town hall; and a religious ceremony, taking place in the church. When ministers were granted the authority to confirm a civil union, the ceremonies were incorporated into a single event held at the church.

The tradition of the “best man” and “maid or matron of honor” dates back at least to medieval times when personal attendants were the province of the wealthy. The squire and lady in waiting had specific responsibilities as assistants to wealthy persons. The maid or matron of honor adjusts the bride’s dress so that it is always looking just right for the congregation and the photographer. I usually joke at wedding rehearsals about the role of the best man to be there to catch the groom if he faints. The joke reflects the reality that weddings are emotionally intense and we all need to be looking out for one another. I also recall for the couple that in medieval times the squire didn’t enter the church. He was the trusted friend of the groom who stood outside the door of the church to guard the weapons which were deposited there. Weapons were not allowed in the church because it was a sanctuary and someone had to be in charge of keeping the weapons safe from would-be thieves.

The giving of the bride reflects a time when an intensely patriarchal culture saw women as possessions. In some times and countries women were titled property and an exchange of money took place where the groom paid the father of the bride. When that time had passed and women were no longer seen by the law as property, the ceremony continued with the question, “Who gives this woman?” with the response, “Here mother and I?” This ceremony was deleted from the book of worship before I was ordained, but couples often want to have a role for parents in their weddings, we we planned various versions of a ceremony for their weddings. In many weddings the bride is escorted into the room by her father or both of her parents. That moment provides an excellent opportunity to reflect on a profound change which is taking place at that moment. I often used the words, “We raise our children in love that they might learn to love.” Frequently I added, “There are times when we, as parents, must step aside and learn to trust our children with the love they have discovered.”

When our children were married, it was a profound moment for me. It was a realization of a reality that existed before the ceremony. The children we raised and loved so dearly were never “ours” to keep. They were always gifts of God to be nurtured, loved and allowed to develop into full maturity. They will go beyond the years of living in our home to become makers of home for others. It is a bittersweet recognition for a parent. We pledged to always be there for our children knowing that they would likely outlive us. We want them to become independent and to forge their own way in life, yet saying good bye as they move on beyond our lives and sphere of influence we become nostalgic for the days when they were tiny and dependent.

The joyous reunion with our daughter yesterday as she and our grandson came to our house for a visit was filled with the recognition of what a wondrously adventurous and independent woman she has become. I watched her competence and confidence as a wife as she bid her husband farewell for a couple of weeks, trusting that he was going ahead to prepare for their reunion, knowing that their marriage was strong in that trust. I watched her competence and confidence as a mother as she, weary from a very long trip, put her son’s needs ahead of her own, making sure that he was well cared for and had all of his needs met before allowing herself to rest. I marveled at the transformation that has taken place in the span of her life. In a sense she will always be daddy’s little girl, but in another, she has never “belonged” to me. She was never a possession, always a trust.

One day she will discover that her son with whom she feels so close and who turns to her for his every need has grown into an adult who is capable of his own independent decisions and who will go out into the world to places where she cannot follow. Some day she will witness his ability to make commitments of his love - love that he learned by experience from the moment he was conceived. For now he feels safe and secure in his world. Even though they have left behind the only home that he has known and are moving to a new home he is happy and content just to have his mother close by. He will learn that you can travel far and move from one place to another and the bonds of love are greater than the distances that divide.

And, if they are as fortunate as we are, they will have moments of reunion and the joys of being face to face and she will recognize him as an adult with his own thoughts and feelings and intentions, dreams and desires, competencies and confidence.

This morning we are all resting secure in the joy of homecoming, even though the house where we are gathered is not the house of our daughter’s growing up and it, like all houses, is ours only for a little while. I’m glad I was there to witness her marriage and have learned to trust the love she has found.

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