The Wedding Picture, All Saints' Day (B) - 2003

November 2, 2003

Let's consider a picture appropriate to this day, the feast of all the saints. In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

One feature of modern weddings are wedding photographs. In many churches, after the wedding service is complete, and the man and the woman are now husband and wife, and the congregation has filed out, there comes a time when photographs are taken.

The photographer may be a professional or a family friend. In any case, there are shots of the bride and groom, and of them in combination with members of their wedding party and their families. Mostly these groups are arranged on the steps that separate the nave from the chancel of the church. The photographer directs those to be photographed to stand in their various combinations. The people smile: the camera clicks.

Sometimes all the relatives on both sides gather around the bride and groom. Little boys and girls full of fun, sisters and brothers and cousins, young and energetic, aunts and uncles and mothers and fathers pleased and proud, elderly grandmothers and grandfathers feeling the weight of their years yet with a quiet inner joy due to this special event. All of them, representing several generations, gather in their ranks beside the bride and groom, all of them smile, the camera clicks, and this group, at this one moment in time, is preserved in glorious color through the miracle we call photography.

Even long after the event, wedding photos get their share of attention. A big group shot like that is taken, and someday the couple's great-grandchildren may gaze at the picture, looking back in time to see their oldest remembered relatives as they were on their wedding day.

There is something wonderful about wedding photos: being in them, watching them taken, looking at them long afterward.

This day, which we call All Saints Day, is a time to look at the photographs from a wedding. It is a wedding that has not yet happened, but is sure to happen. So sure is it to happen that we can well imagine the big picture of bride and groom surrounded by the group that counts them near and dear. We can imagine that picture, and though it is a vast photograph, demanding a lens of the widest possible angle, still it is a familiar picture, populated by some familiar faces, people well known to us, people we've heard about-as well as others whose names we do not know.

Who is at the center of this wedding photo? Who are the bride and groom? The groom is Christ. The bride is the Church. Those who gather beside them for this photo are saints from every age and every land. This photo has not yet been taken, because the ranks are not quite complete, but it is easy to imagine this picture: that vast throng, with Christ and his Bride at the center.

Beside Christ stands his best man, John the Baptist, dressed up in a camel hair suit. Among the groomsmen are James and John, apostles nicknamed "the Sons of Thunder," primed for a lively night at the reception. Mary is standing by, too; not the young girl from all of those baby pictures of Jesus, but a stately matron in a suitable dress for the mother-of-the-groom. We see as well Mary's aged parents, Joachim and Anne. Nearby is Mary Magdalene, dressed up and ready to dance.

This is not a wedding where the color and style of the clothing is coordinated. The saints are a rainbow assembly, dressed in every fashion and with no fashion at all. Louis of France, who wore a crown for Christ, stands beside Benedict Joseph Labre, who wore rags for Christ. Two teenage girls stand with arms around each other: one is Agnes, martyr at Rome 1,700 years ago; the other is Cassie Bernall, a martyr at Littleton in 20th century America. Just beyond them is a Mexican farm worker, a Russian grandmother, a Chilean merchant, a Presbyterian from Korea, a Baptist from Harlem, a Lutheran from Helsinki: all of them looking like their own true selves, and all of them with a bit of Jesus to them.

Gaze again, and you will recognize faces from your own past. That neighbor from your childhood; some friend from long ago; a co-worker from your first job; the uncle who always had time for you; a parish member whose funeral you attended. It is a vast throng gathered to celebrate this marriage, yet here and there you recognize a face that delights you, even surprises you. You surmise that the invitation list was a long one -- and you hear it was written in the Bridegroom's blood.

O when the saints go marchin' in,
O when the saints go marchin' in,
O I want to be in that number,
when the saints go marchin' in.

O when the saints all gather round,
O when the saints all gather round,
O I want to be in that picture,
when the saints all gather round.

In this world of ours, we see many pictures full of pretty people who aren't quite real. We call the pictures "advertisements," and they are everywhere. We learn to distrust these pictures, because nobody we know gets as excited about the softness of their toilet tissue or the taste of their burger or the poison in their cigarette as do these pretty people in these unreal pictures.

The photo taken at a wedding of bride and groom and others beside them is a real picture, populated by real people. Their faces bear witness to their histories and their hopes. They are not necessarily pretty by the false standards of glossy advertising, but in their own way they are beautiful, authentic, alive. The splendor of the occasion is mirrored in their faces.

So, too, the wide-angle lens photo taken at the wedding of Christ and the Church is a real picture, populated by real people. The faces of the saints bear witness to their histories and to their hopes now become real. Not pretty by the standards of glossy advertising, they are beautiful, alive, radiant with glory, fit guests for the wedding where they have come as friends of the bride and groom.

Perhaps this is the secret of the saints. They are not the pretty, unreal people of advertisements. They are beautiful, real people gathered around the bride and groom in the wedding photo of Christ and the Church. Grace shows its full colors in the glory that is theirs. But grace was at work in them long before. And that grace is at work in us, the people here and now who hold in our hands the invitation to that same wedding.

Jesus announces this work of grace in his Sermon on the Mount, when he addresses the Beatitudes to his disciples. He tells them they are beautiful and real already, and their reality and beauty will be visible in that wedding photograph yet to come. He speaks to those ordinary disciples and to all the ordinary people who are to follow them, including those of us gathered here this morning. Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of the Beatitudes helps make their message clear. Jesus says:

You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

You're blessed when you're content with just who you are -- no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought.

You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for God. He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat.

You're blessed when you care. At the moment of being full of cares [Peterson's paraphrase reads, "At the moment of being 'care-full'"], you find yourself cared for.

You're blessed when you get your inside world -- your mind and your heart -- put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family.

You're blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you deeper into God's kingdom.

Not only that-count yourself blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit you. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens-give a cheer, even!-for though they don't like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company, My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble. [Matthew 5:3-12 in Eugene H. Peterson, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (NavPress, 2002.]

It is in these ways that grace does its work and glory appears. Through these occasions of being blessed we are made beautiful and real for the wedding, ready to take our place in the picture.

Bernard of Clairvaux expressed the significance of this day when he declared: "What does our commendation mean to them? The saints have no need of honor from us; neither does our devotion add the slightest thing to what is theirs. Clearly, if we venerate their memory, it serves us, not them. But I tell you, when I think of them, I feel myself enflamed by a tremendous yearning." [quoted in J. Robert Wright, ed., Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church (Church Publishing, 1991), p. 496.]

Or to put the matter only a little differently:

O when the saints go marchin' in,
O when the saints go marchin' in,
O I want to be in that number,
when the saints go marchin' in.

O when the saints all gather round,
O when the saints all gather round,
O I want to be in that picture,
when the saints all gather round.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Contact:
Christopher Sikkema