by Larry Patten
When a young pastor at my first church, a retired clergy colleague described ministry by saying, “We used to call it hatch, match, and dispatch.” He grinned. I did too. Of course, it’s much more, which he knew even while chuckling. Like him, I am now retired. However, he was as comical as he was correct. The “hatch, match, and dispatch” ceremonies regularly appeared on every calendar I kept, in every place I served.
While not sure how many couples I married, certain match memories linger and continue to influence me.
I was told to appear for a backyard wedding’s rehearsal around five. Five o’clock had become six o’clock. The clock kept ticking.
The mother of the woman who owned the house, where the ceremony would take place on the next day, settled beside me on the patio couch. Across the yard, her daughter—the homeowner—aimed a leaf blower to swoosh debris from around the pool. Two beagles scampered across the lawn. One was fascinated with a smallish rip in a plush toy. The rip quickly transformed into a gaping wound. Like manna in the desert, stuffing spread around the thrilled dogs.
The woman and I chatted.
“Do you have a church?” my patio companion asked. Mid-seventies, she had silver hair like fluffy frosting on a cake and posed her questions with eyes fixed on mine.
“No. I’m working for a hospice right now.” I also mentioned a nearby church I had served.
After tsk-tsking the dog’s assault on the stuffed toy, she wondered, “Do you like to do weddings?”
Her smile faded to a frown. “Really?”
“I prefer memorial services.”
“Why is that?”
“People are usually on time.”
Her smile returned.
At her age, I suspected she’d seen enough to agree with me. Weddings, like funerals, have official start times. Weddings, unlike funerals, have far less predictable beginnings or endings. I have officiated at a few delayed graveside services. There were also elaborate weddings that unfolded more precisely than launching a moon mission.
Nonetheless, two folks vowing I do often ignore the clock.
And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (Revelation 21:2)
I’m not surprised the enigmatic author of Revelation chose wedding imagery to depict the new Jerusalem. In his bones and soul, John felt the future impinging on the present. Change fueled his vision. Death’s reign would end. Pain would be history. Before you know it, God would be with humans.
It would soon be a celebration. Joyous. Like a wedding!
One of my favorite four-letter words is soon. I’ll do that job soon. I’ll be over soon. I’ll help as soon as I can.
Nearly two thousand years after John’s revelation anticipated a new Jerusalem, I could read today’s headlines about the city of David. It’s still the old Jerusalem. Or I could read how humans—Jewish, Muslim, Christian—treat (or mistreat) each other. Often, people sharing the same faith act like deadly enemies. We continue living with the old death, the usual pain, and the inevitable weeping.
Back in the backyard, the homeowner’s mother leaves. It’s late. She had things to do at home.
The bride and groom arrive, the rehearsal gets underway. Both in their forties, they didn’t want a ceremony with fanfare or pretense. They preferred the comfortable, relaxed atmosphere of a friend’s backyard.
When I helped couples plan weddings, I invited them to create their own words. Many declined. The ceremony I suggested, based on my denomination’s resources and the personal tweaks I’ve added, is what they choose. I like my ceremony. I worked hard to honor Christian tradition, incorporate relevant scripture, and to be flexible for appropriate personal additions.
This couple made changes. They wrote their vows. They included, with tender words and a surprise gift, a daughter from the bride’s previous marriage. They also added a phrase that truly stunned me. You might call it a revelation. (And I wish I had thought of it!)
Near the ceremony’s end, based on their words, I reminded them that they didn’t belong to each other, but belonged with each other. Throughout history, most marriages in most faith traditions were about property. The father gave the bride away. Property. A dowry exchanged hands. Property. The husband owned the wife. Property.
She would not be owned by him. He would not be owned by her. This is how they would seek to live each day: belonging with the other.
In my faith, I believe God owns me. I am the creation; God is the Creator. And yet there is more than ownership in my relationship with the Holy. Every day I desire to be with the God who is always with and for me.
I believe that also describes Revelation’s long-ago longing. Soon, God will appear. Soon, a new Jerusalem. Soon, death ends. Soon, God will be known by all.
It’s today though, in the moment or millennia before soon.
The groom warned me he’d cry. He did. He wept, with and for his bride. God’s love impinged on the not yet and yet also on the here and now.
Larry Patten is a retired United Methodist pastor living in Fresno, California. He has worked in churches, hospices, and campus ministry. His writing has appeared in publications such as The Christian Century, Spirituality & Health, and Ruminate. He is the author of A Companion for the Hospice Journey.