Seeing the Eternal: The Wedding Presence

"Who gives this woman to be married to this man?" asked the other minister. "Her mother and I do," I answered firmly. From that point, I was in charge of the ceremony in the Gloriette Garden, reminding us of God's glory, surrounded by 200 seated family and friends, on that stunningly scenic, sunny Saturday morning, the first day of June, in the year of our Lord 2013. For so very many years I had anticipated this moment, in my heart, mind and spirit. Just before our walk down the brick path, our Chrissa had reminded me to "keep it short."

"Welcome to the Lord's original cathedral. The garden is still God's very best and favorite sanctuary. The studding colors of stained glass windows only weakly approximate the vibrant hues of verdant nature surrounding us here. Great things happen in gardens. Humanity was created in a garden; our Savior resisted his last temptation in a garden; our Lord rose again, conquering death for us, in a garden. Gardens matter.

"Now we come before our Creator and all of you, our family and friends, as at the very beginning – with original man, original woman, and our Creator. Today we are touching the Original; today we are embracing the Eternal."

I vividly felt the Spirit's Presence as I spoke. Family and friends, believers and non-believers, were now intensely engaged. This was a great and wonderful moment for all of us.

"Chrissa and Jon, the covenant commitment you are about to make with each other is both a tremendous gift from the eternal, living, loving Lord – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and also a beautiful and sacred expression of your deep love for each other. As you pledge your vows to each other in a few minutes, and as you commit your lives to each other, we remind you to do so in all spiritual seriousness, and with a splendid sense of the joy of the Lord! Marriage is a miracle every day – with both faith and forgiveness uniting and guiding you. Your marriage will elevate your dynamic, growing relationship of faith and trust, hope and mutual support, and deeply caring shared love. May your marriage richly thrive for many decades, all the rest of your healthy and happy lives."

We were then ready for some music ("Breathe"), the "I will" pledges and the Scripture readings. In addition to 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, including the "Love never fails" that Chrissa and Jon had inscribed on their rings, Chrissa and Jon selected a literal translation of Song of Songs 8:6-7, as Chrissa's mother and I had selected many years before.

Hold me as a seal to your heart;
Keep me as a signet ring upon your finger.

For love is stronger than death,
And the passionate drive of love is all-consuming…
Its flames are flashes of fire – a pure fire of the Lord.
Streams of water cannot put it out;
Floods of water shall never quench the fire of love.

For a few minutes, let me share with you about TRIANGLES. The most basic and stable relationships are triangular. In the two Bible passages that Rachel and Maria just read, each references three elements – the two humans plus the love that "never fails," in 1 Corinthians 13, and the man and the woman and the "pure fire of the Lord" that draws them together into unqualified commitment, in the Song of Songs. Real love is both divinely faithful and passionately consuming – always involving the Lord himself with the two people whom he joins together. Also, in the original Garden, the Lord joined together two of his wonderful images—both continuing to image him and both needing each other. A perfect triangle. Some talk about protecting traditional marriage of "one man and one woman," but that is not the original marriage pattern, and it does not work. What is needed is "one God, one woman, and one man." The TRIANGLE is the lasting relationship.

Everything that truly matters is triangular. Even in architecture, it is all triangles. The square angles of building walls would not last without diagonal cross-pieces, thus creating triangles for strength and stability. Without triangles, buildings would collapse. Both in architecture and in relationships we may think we have other shapes – pentagons, octagons, dodecagons – but they all are ultimately complex arrangements of simple, stable triangles.

Even before time began, the Holy Trinity eternally thrived in the perfect relationships of what is called "ahav" in Hebrew and "agape" in Greek – consuming, faithful, unconditional love. That awesome divine love, eternally sustaining the deep complexities and mysteries of the Trinity, was also the Lord's motivation for creating original man and woman, and all of us. Each one of us was truly birthed in eternal divine love, however vibrant or vain our birth families may have been. The triangular eternal God brings us into triangular love relationships in which he fully, personally participates. People may refer to adultery as a "love triangle," but such misnomers of unfaithful relationships are dishonors to triangles, and nothing at all about love.

Triangles matter. Today we join you two and the Lord – so that anyone who may try to get between you would be trying to harm or replace the Lord himself! By his amazing grace, the Eternal God himself is an essential and vibrant part of your relationship. Also, you as a couple relate to others – family, friends, future children. And in those relationships the Lord is always present, too, whether or not the other people acknowledge him. It is always triangles: the Lord – you together – and others, or the Lord – Jon and Chrissa. Splendid triangles. Thanks be to our gracious God. Amen.

(Courtesy of Paul de Vries)
(Courtesy of Paul de Vries)

Following this brief homily, there were the vows that Jon and Chrissa wrote, the ring ceremony, the singing of "The Prayer," the love-letter ceremony, the pronouncement (interrupted by deafening applause and cheers!), the closing prayer, the kiss, and the formal presentation of the married couple, "It is now my privilege to introduce to you Mr. and Mrs…" Next, the reception while the photographers took dozens of pictures of the wedding participants, the introductions in the lovely catering hall next to the Gloriette Garden, the prayer sung, the splendid dinner eaten, the lovely dancing, the backwards bouquet toss, and the cake consumed. After splendid hours together, most people had then given their final hugs and trickled out to their cars.

(Courtesy of Paul de Vries)

Now as less than three dozen family and friends remained, the newlyweds prepared their formal departure. The remaining two professional photographers were poised to capture this defining moment through their professional equipment. I stood there, within the small cluster of people, with my inexpensive, digital snapshot camera on a simple tripod. The official, professional photos could take weeks; I wanted to share some pictures the next day.

The sky was clear, and the sun was intensely bright. While waiting for Chrissa and Jon, I took a picture of the empty brick walkway. Then as the newlyweds walked toward us, through my lens I saw a slender beam of light as a distinct sunray shining onto the middle of the brick path in front of them. I snapped a second picture. Was this the Lord himself visually confirming his awesome Presence? Was this bright beam what Scripture calls the "Shekinah" glory, the manifest Presence of God? As Chrissa and Jon quickly walked closer, I snapped a third picture capturing how the Shekinah beam dramatically quickly grew in intensity, and then a fourth picture just as, through my lens, the Shekinah glory most brightly united the newlyweds walking closely together, hand-in-hand. The Lord Jesus Christ's Shekinah hand in theirs! [Please see the attached sequence of four photos.] The Shekinah beam then disappeared.

Very smart people have thoughtfully explained to me about scientific optics, my simple camera lens, the time of day, the angle of the sun, the exact place I set my tripod, and "lens flares." And I believe them.

However, miracle is most often about the timing and the place and the live narrative context of a rare event – as the Scriptures teach and as Augustine also explained. The point of the Spirit-anointed wedding homily was the Lord's personal, grace-filled, eternal Presence uniting Chrissa and Jon. And then the eternal Presence chooses vividly to show himself in a dramatic way in the final wedding pictures, June 1, 2013.

As the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning once wisely observed:

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes.
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

I choose to take off my shoes in respect for the Presence – and also pluck the tasty blackberries that the Creator gives for our nourishment and pleasure. So also, Jesus is in all light, any place, anytime; he is the light of the world. We honor him – and also utilize his wonderful light to live, love, and learn. And yet, at some intensely significant moments the light shines in a way that totally rivets our attention to the Lord Jesus Christ's eternal, constant, brilliant, grace-filled, light-shining Presence.

Consider this: The Shekinah glory appeared (1) near the Gloriette Garden, already referencing God's glory, (2) only at the exact time of Chrissa and Jon's last appearance before their honeymoon, (3) only at the exact place of their final walk, (4) only shining the very most brightly just as they walked hand-in-hand into his vivid, glowing Presence, (5) the Shekinah beam touches their joined hands, and (6) then disappeared, having made his point, though his continuing Presence remains so powerful with Chrissa and Jon, (7) as the Spirit-anointed homily had just taught as the main point. What more could we ask? What amazing grace!

Praise God from whom all blessings flow, abundantly, above and beyond…

Dr. Paul de Vries is the president of New York Divinity School, and a pastor, speaker and author. Since 2004, he has served on the Board of the National Association of Evangelicals, representing 40 million evangelical Americans.

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