25 years ago today, Vivian and I got married. We received a poem as a present, an epithalamium for those who care about the technical name, that spoke of joy, and love, and laughter, and tender moments. It hangs on our bedroom wall, framed along with the cover of our invitation (the picture above) reminding us that when we get too serious or worry too much, that our love is much, much more. It reminds us of that day that the bride arrived at the church with a canoe on her car after the groom had spent the morning seam sealing a tent; we were ready for adventure or whatever came our way. Adventures we have had! We’ve had all kinds of joy, love, laughter, and tender moments.
Words have a power that I could not really appreciate then. With great joy and excitement and naivete, I said “I do!” How innocent and ignorant we were. Little did we know how those words would reverberate into the future. As we get further from that day, we need to remind ourselves, say them again, because the echoes of who we were get fainter and fainter. Yet, those very same words continue to create a relationship, a family, a life together. On that day and every day since we have spoken our marriage into existence.
Among the many other words that day were two Scripture passages. Looking back with a Masters of Divinity, a PhD in Practical Theology, and 25 years of working in the church behind me, I am amazed that we chose these. What were we thinking? I’m even more amazed, appalled maybe, that we were allowed to. Who let us choose a passage about two refugee women? Or worse, a section of Matthew where the editors of the NRSV have inserted the title, “The Judgment of the Nations”?
Perhaps there was a wisdom at work that we could not comprehend, for these two Scriptures have continued to have power in our lives. They have told us who we are, or more often than we would like to admit, who we should be. When these words were spoken over us somehow, miraculously perhaps, they got woven into the fabric of our lives. The Word has power that I could not really appreciate then.
Listen for the word of the Lord in Ruth:
Do not press me to leave you / or to turn back from following you! / Where you go, I will go; / where you lodge, I will lodge; / your people shall be my people, and your God my God. / Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried. / May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!Ruth 1:16-17
Ruth is a story of kinship and hardship, of sacrifices and obligations. For complicated reasons Ruth vows to follow her mother-in-law Naomi even though she need not. She sacrifices for another when she has no obligation to do so. Earlier Naomi had moved to another land, Moab, to escape famine only to face so much death that she must return. Ruth accompanies her; where you go, I will go / where you lodge, I will lodge. Ruth doesn’t belong, she’s a Moabite outside of Moab, yet she is steadfast in her commitment to Naomi; your people are mine / your God mine. Her commitment only ends in death.
And all of this results in Ruth redeeming Naomi. She follows Naomi’s advice and marries Boaz, eventually having a child named Obed. Obed begat Jesse who begat David. David becomes king of Israel, one after God’s own heart. And from the line of David comes Jesus. Ruth the dedicated, wandering, foreign daughter in law is Christ’s ancestor.
Ruth is an aspirational story for us. We have wandered: Ottawa, Princeton, Brampton, Princeton (again), Abbotsford, Malawi and now back to Ottawa (again). When one has sensed a call, the other has picked up and followed; where you go, I will go. We have been in two foreign lands, navigated 9/11 in America (when Vivian was working in Manhattan) and a cyclone followed by a pandemic in Malawi. We’ve been food stamp poor and have relied on our kin to get through. And we look to future generations with anticipation. What will these words create into the future?
Listen to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as witnessed to by Matthew:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”Matthew 25:31-40
There are other passages like this one that speak of judgement based on how we behave. Few are as poetic or as rich in imagery. Here the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned all have inherent value and they are all the face of God. Those that see the inherent value and act on it have inadvertently also seen the face of God.
Perhaps a passage of bringing in the hungry, thirsty, and lonely into a wedding feast would have been more appropriate but we chose this one, in part, because it is an important Scripture for the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). Vivian had spent time with the MCC in Central America as a university student. 20 years later she would work for MCC BC and then, while in Malawi, would help coordinate their relief efforts after Cyclone Idai. This passage was a reminder of a commitment we made to each other, that in our relationship we would strive to serve the least of these. As we begin this next 25 years of marriage, Matthew 25 acts as a kind of agenda for our work. I will continue to work with the church in Malawi and Vivian is searching for a job that combines international development and environmental policy.
Words have power to shape and form and sustain and propel us. They speak in the moment but continue reverberating into the future. They change tenor and volume over time, allowing other new words to get spoken. The same words of joy, and love, and laughter take on new meaning, not losing anything but gaining more. Even with that constant echo and change, there is something miraculous about these words, “I do”, Ruth, and Matthew continuing with us. Looking forward to hearing what comes next.