Monday, November 14, 2011

Ah, Vestments

Serving a small congregation, it isn't often that I have a wedding or a funeral, much less one of each in a span of 20 hours. But such was last week. A man whom I had married to his beloved several years ago died unexpectedly on Monday, which was the start of an interesting week. For months now, I've been working with a couple in our congregation who have been planning their wedding. Both of them love Jesus, but one of them claims a Christian identity, while the other does not any longer.

It's not often I get asked to do stuff like write prayers to the four directions or to incorporate smudging in our congregational life. (More's the pity, I think.) Asperging - sure. Smudging? Not so much among these white former Congregationalists. So the planning of the wedding was a great deal of fun. The rehearsal was not as much fun, as we navigated the challenges of all the various rituals involved. This was on my day off, and I had already spent two hours visiting with the widow of the man who had died earlier in the week.

The nature of our work is that we both practice self-care and model appropriate boundaries, but we also are always on-call. I'd already planned to do the rehearsal that day, so I was prepared to make up some Sabbath time later in the week. That didn't really happen, and I hadn't thought enough ahead to take some self-care time earlier, so I was relying on lots of my prayer reserves.

The wedding was fabulous. The brides were radiant, and the liturgy we'd crafted together happened beautifully. The Spirit was alive and celebrating with us! I slipped out of the reception to nip over to the funeral home in time to catch the family before they left the visitation, and then returned to the church to celebrate some more. Spiritual/emotional whiplash, anyone? Fortunately, everyone knew what was going on, and everyone was as gracious as could be - both the widow and the brides.

The next morning, the funeral. It was a "full house" at the funeral home, and we celebrated life of, and mourned the untimely death of, this dear man. It hit me with great force on Saturday that we wear the same vestments to weddings and funerals (and baptisms, too). Of course, I can articulate the theological reasons why this is so, but the yoke of Christ I wear for such occasions - a white stole with gold crosses on either side (the long bar of the cross is one band that runs the length of the stole, with two crosses at my chest) made for me by a member of the church where I did my field education - felt heavier than usual. The magnitude of this calling weighed on me more deeply, reminding me of the burden that comes with this office.

It is a joyous burden, most of the time. But this weekend, it was a heavy load.

What a privilege this congregation has bestowed on me, to permit me to minister at these joyous and tragic events. I pray that I am worthy .... and then turn my prayers to those who need them more than I do. To the widow who has lost her husband too soon, may she know consolation and peace. To the brides who have committed themselves to each other, may they always know joy together, and may our culture come to value their marriage as it does my own.

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