The Best for Last
Except that the invitation on the fridge said Timothy and Elana, it could have been every wedding or any wedding. There was a lot of anticipation. The invitation was tacked to the fridge for an entire year and I heard a lot of things from my wife working up to that date. She did a lot of shopping the week before, new shoes, new clothes, new belts, new watches, matching ties and socks. I was given a lot of unsolicited advice. The weight goals set were such that they might well require the intervention of a fat farm. It was her former classmate, and the occasion was very, very important.
When the day arrived and we finally found ourselves at the church, the one degree of separation allowed me to sit back like a fly on the wall and just take it all in with the luxury of a stranger. There was a cast of characters familiar to any wedding planner, all scrubbed up and appearing in concert and on cue. There were people who had not seen each other in what seemed to be a lifetime, brought in from far away, family and friends all in one big happy reunion. The enormity of the preparations was itself breathing a sigh of relief as everything finally slotted into place at the appointed time. We were living the day that so many people had circled on the calendar.
The groom looked too young and too skinny. They all do. His tuxedo was dapper and his boutonniere matched his groomsmen, all similarly scrubbed up with neat close-cropped hair and beards. They looked so much alike, it was as if the groom himself had already gone forth and multiplied.
There had been many preparations going on behind the scenes, from seamstresses fitting clothes, caterers putting together menus, to people preparing meaningful words to mark the occasion. Yet here, in the presence of witnesses and in the presence of God himself, is a strange place to find yourself even when you have known about the date for a while. The bride and groom both cried while exchanging vows. It can be overwhelming to suddenly see that the date you had marked on the calendar, was suddenly prepared and waiting for you. Staring your beloved in the face. The ring waiting on the attendant’s pillow. All the people from an entire lifetime suddenly compacted into one place.
Amidst the same kind of nervous excitement, Jesus performed his first miracle at a wedding. He changed the water into wine when there was found to be a hiccough in arrangements. The servants dipped from the large stone jars and took some of the water to the Lord of the feast to sample. He wondered, how odd it was that while most people serve the finest vintage up front, this host withheld the best for last.
It does not escape the wise, that the first miracle happened at a wedding. Those of religious faith recognize the union between a man and his bride to be a sacrament, an earthly unfolding of a divine mystery. Looking around the room, the handkerchiefs were already being put to use by the older people in the room, who understood the beauty of a picture which was old and new at the same time. These older people had seen enough of the bigger story already, that the sense of attenuated meaning was tugging at their hearts. They understood personally that the relative naiveté of the bride and groom would not matter at all because the community of witnesses would pull them through.
The ceremony did not lack meaning for the repeat. There was the bride being nervously walked down the aisle in the careful arm of her father who looked both tall and somehow fragile as he lifted the bride’s veil, signifying her passage from mystery into revelation which partakes of the divine. There was the exchange of rings whose circles embrace eternity. The promises read from an old book, ever new even when repeated. I love you. I will cherish you. I covenant with you, for the blessing of all who witness, for the survival of love itself, and for the making of a family in a future we cannot yet see. These things will repeat again like a great saga at every wedding and any wedding, the smaller pictures all feeding into one. It’s an old story. A man shall leave his mother and father, cleave unto his bride, and the two shall become one flesh. What God hath joined, let no man therefore put asunder.
Jesus has been portrayed in the Bible as a groom waiting for the Church, his bride. When that day finally comes, it will be a moment of wonder, to realize that the day we have waited for was also waiting for us. The gathering from far and wide will include some we have not seen in a lifetime. God and a host of witnesses - a family of families will be presiding, because this smaller picture we see now has a heavenly ending we cannot yet comprehend. We will taste the new wine and wonder that the Lord of the feast has indeed saved the best for last.
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