"Thousand Dollar Wedding Gown," by Pastor Fred
The wedding industry in the United States is a $55-billion behemoth, with the average ceremony costing more than $31,000. Overblown ceremonies, reality shows, and obsessions with celebrity weddings, have all changed the meaning of this tradition. Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky’s wedding cost $5 million. Prince William and Kate Middleton – $34 million.
And Chicago lives up to its “Second City” nickname, when it comes to pricey weddings. A new survey says Chicago is the second most expensive city in which to get married, coming in with an average price tag of over $61,000.
New York City has the most expensive weddings, as you might have guessed, averaging over $82,000, while the cheapest weddings are in Alaska, averaging a mere, $17,000.
It’s notable too, I think, that over one-third of couples, or 36%, are having, ‘red weddings,’ by putting them on credit, even if that means starting out their married life in debt. In a survey of more than 1,000 people who were engaged to be married, they agreed that having access to credit would allow them to spend more than their budget.
John of Patmos probably wasn’t picturing a thousand-dollar dress when he spoke of the new Jerusalem “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband." How can we recapture the original intention of this metaphor, framing God’s desire to be “married” to the church, in understandable terms for us? How do we get back on track, past the excess?
Perhaps Catherine of Siena, that 14C Saint commemorated this week, can help. She famously experienced a “mystical marriage” to Christ. “You, eternal Trinity, are a deep sea,” she said. “The more I enter you, the more I discover. And the more I discover, the more I seek you.” (Dialogue, 167) That’s some wonderful, racy, pre-Reformation stuff!
John’s idea of marriage to God, was the eschatological vision of the kingdom of God at the end of the ages. A vision, we have mixed up over the centuries, and so its metaphor always comes as a surprise. The kingdom of God, says John of Patmos, comes down out of heaven from God, to earth. Mother earth, which we celebrated Friday on Earth Day, is not left behind, and no one is raptured up, to a Platonic body-less displacement. John envisions “a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth will have passed away, and the sea,” the place of chaos, and monsters, and death, “will be no more.” The new Jerusalem, or the resurrected people of God, are “coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband,” – for Christ.
Again, Catherine of Siena, on her mystical marriage to Christ: “O eternal Father! O fiery abyss of love! O eternal goodness! O immeasurable generosity! O mad lover! And you have need of your creature? It seems so to me, for you act as if you would not live without her, in spite of the fact that you are life itself, that everything has life from you, and that nothing can have life without you. Yet you have fallen in love with what you have made.” This real, vulnerable desire for us, as much as our searching desire for God, this marriage of gracious gift-giver of immeasurable generosity, to creatures here below, was Catherine’s dream for the Church.
Though, tt was not a dream, that was disconnected from the realities of this world. She knew the sin and separation from God, of her time. Catherine spoke our struggles to love one another, amidst our betrayal, and Christ’s desire for reconciliation: “She” – the Church – “runs away from you, and you go looking for her; she strays, and you draw closer to her. And what shall I say? I will stutter “A – a,” because there is nothing else I know how to say. Finite language cannot express the emotion of the soul who longs for you infinitely.”
We all long for love and reconciliation, even, and perhaps especially, in our darkest days. Christ is our faithful partner, always forgiving, always calling us to a new day, and our best selves.
There was once a nun, who served in the military, during World War II. Much later, she was at a conference with two men who had both been in the war, a German and an American. One evening after dinner, as they washed the dishes together, they exchanged stories about the war. The American told of the horror he felt as a young pilot, during a particularly savage bombing of a city in Germany. He had orders to bomb the hospital, which he would know, by the huge Red Cross painted on the roof. The second man – after regaining his composure – revealed that his wife had been giving birth to their baby, in that very hospital, when it was being bombed! And the nun had to tiptoe out of the room, because the two men fell into each other’s arms weeping – in a reconciliation beyond words. (adapted from Suzanne Guthrie, Living By The Word, CC)
Imagine being in the new Jerusalem, where we might fall weeping upon one another, waves of reconciliation breaking upon us as we adjust ourselves to this dimension of pure love, where “death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
One of the mysteries of marriage, a mystery in all our human relationships really, is knowing that God cherishes all our attempts to work with God at banishing the one thing, even God cannot abide – being alone, unknown, and forgotten. If Catherine of Sienna is right, even God desires us. And we know too, that we are only fully human when we are acknowledged through the eyes of another, who loves us for who we are.
Far too many of our fellow human beings, lack this affirmation, and basic gift, which we the baptized know, as the free gift of grace. Our cities are full of lost souls, far too many who have been taught negative images of love, and who experience loneliness, oppression and stigma.
Catherine of Sienna has been called, “a mystic whose plunge into God plunged her deep into the affairs of society, Church, and the souls who came under her influence.” Catherine became the first woman afforded the title, Doctor, or teacher, of the Church. But far from living a quiet, withdrawn life as a theologian, Catherine was instrumental in negotiating the papal politics in her time; she spoke up for those lost and lonely ones, saying: “We’ve had enough of exhortations to be silent! Cry out with a hundred thousand tongues. I see that the world is rotten because of silence.”
John’s gospel opens with, in the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God, and the Word was God. Israel Kamudzandu, a professor of New Testament Studies, finds the same poignancy in our passage from Revelation, “the new creation is framed by God’s direct speech,” he says. By, the Word! “See, I am making all things new. God’s new creation must replace this deadly, torn, … angry, sick, …vengeful, hurtful, and painful world. The church is called to make a choice,” he says, “to be on the side of God and to be part of the new creation, or to choose the world […which is] focused on entertaining people, rather than offering new life.”
How can we not, place ourselves in the role of bride, choosing to find true love in God’s desire to be “married,” to us, the church? “See, the home of God is among mortals. God will dwell with them; they will be God’s people.”
We don’t need a $1,000 wedding gown, for this beautiful wedding dance of life, when we have, and know, the fiery, mad, and everlasting love of Christ.
Alleluia, Christ is risen!