a couple weeks ago, i read ecclesiastes 4:9-12 at my dear friend jennifer’s wedding ceremony. i was so honored that she asked me to contribute in this small way to her special day. i had asked what i would be reading, so that i might familiarize myself with the text — okay, let’s be honest, i geeked out so much that i offered to memorize the passage.
one of the perks of reader duty was being strategically seated. though to the very right-hand side of the sanctuary, i was seated in the front, which meant getting almost cozy with the string quartet.
i got to watch travis, the groom, beam with pride as he admired his bride. he grinned wide, his smile as pearly and bright as her beautiful gown; i daresay he was the happiest groom i ever did see thus far.
i got to take in the profiles of a doting father and his darling daughter walking down the aisle. the pastor asked him, “who gives this woman to be married to this man?” “her mother and i do,” he said, his voice marked with a quiet, joyful lilt and slight trill of sadness.
but i found these vignettes, as poignant as they were, to be slightly less captivating than watching the couple light the unity candle together.
well, from where i sat, i had a much better view of jennifer than of travis. this vantage point gave me a new perspective of this not unusual wedding ritual.
witnessing this rite was like going to the beach, inching slowly into waves that set you back just a step. but as soon as she extinguished her candle with a huff of air, the revelation took me by surprise, crashing over me like a tidal wave.
as they prayed together for the first time as husband and wife, the string quartet accompanying them with “fairest lord jesus”, my mind’s eye focused on the snuffed out candle, zooming in for that artsy macro shot of a smoldering wick and lingering wisp of smoke.
i felt tears welling up under my eyes, as i crawled breathlessly out of the waters back onto shore after being pounded by undertow of this realization:
i was watching two people die.
figuratively, of course. i think of shakespeare’s romeo & juliet, wherein the star-crossed lovers marry surreptitiously then their plans to complete their elopement are foiled, and the play ends (spoiler alert) with the newlyweds’ hapless double-suicide.
the differences between the elizabethan tragedy and this real-life wedding are subtle. the montague boy and capulet girl ended their lives after getting hitched. for the gee family’s son and the park family’s daughter, they were concluding their respective lives as their own man and woman in order to become husband and wife.
november 23, 2013: the first day of their married life. but also, the last day of their independence. this was the day that the impossible — 1 + 1 = 1 — was made possible because each of them reduced themselves such that 1/2 + 1/2 = 1.
their single days are over. dunzo. finito. “i” has been effectively erased from their everyday lexicon; “i” only exists when prefaced by “travis &” (and that started before wedding day).
i don’t mean to sound so morbid. yes, yes, weddings are overall joyous milestones; we’re celebrating a new beginning, a fresh start.
but semisonic sang, “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” and paul wrote to the corinthians, “the old life is gone; a new life has begun!” the heavenly host describe Jesus as the bridegroom, and the Lord himself tells us that life in the kingdom of heaven will be kicked off with a wedding.
and so the simple gesture reminded me that death precedes resurrection. a seed must first die before it can sprout into a plant.
so while i grieved the end of jennifer’s life as i knew it up until that moment, i welcomed and rejoiced the beginning of this new thing God was growing. it is a sweet surrender, all in all.
though my friendship with jennifer is now subsumed by her marriage to travis, God being as gracious as he is, enlarged my friendship to include them both. and for that i am quite grateful.