written by: David C Russell
Today, the divine and common, shade and sun, man and woman, friend and stranger would converge on the stage of life. The setting, a botanical garden. The occasion, the uniting of two lives, two hearts.
“Where are the chairs? I ordered this setup weeks ago,” said Martha, mother of the bride.
“They should be here any minute now,” replied the event planner.
“Oh duh, is that all you can say?” asked Martha, wringing her hands in frustration.
“I’ll text to see where things are.” One hour remained before the wedding between Chris and Victoria. Anticipation was felt by the bride and groom, her parents, Phil and Martha; Chris’s parents, Aaron and Glenda, who were at a hospital room two hours away. His father had a second heart attack two days prior and scheduled for stent placement within two days.
Jitters were felt by the bride and groom as thoughts of their Covenant, and thoughts of Chris’s dad would cross the periphery to the center of their mind unannounced.
Hope, a shared optimism, likely pervaded both sets of parents, the bride and groom, and attendees for this couple and themselves, to welcome fresh beginnings. Chris and Victoria were in their middle twenties, had sufficient income for today, and possessed a quality of faith that was consistently renewed in practical ways and with Spiritual insight.
Victoria’s parents agreed less with the bride and groom’s choice of location, a botanical garden. Like many of their generation opted for secular settings instead of a synagogue or church. As singer Bob Dylan put it, The times are a changing.
Furthermore, would both sets of parents tolerate their choice of someone who held an online license to perform the duties of clergy? Juan Castro was a mutual acquaintance of Victoria and Chris. The couple were part of his weekly Friday evening Bible study group. Juan and Chris occasionally played tennis.
As the time drew near and final touches made, Chris introduced my parents to Juan. My dad remarked, “This day is like none other,”
“What are your credentials, Mr. Castro?” Martha asked. She surmised his look is too casual, grey sweater, scuffed sneakers, jeans, to represent the clerical vocation.
“I’m a friend of your son and his fiancée. I got my ordination online a couple years ago after moving here from Miami.”
“So, what do you believe about the Trinity?” Phil asked. Juan may have sensed this as a trick question.
“I believe in eternity, and plan to spend it with God and his children,” Juan replied, smile wide.
“Are you going to do the traditional vows or make something up on the fly?” Phil pressed.
“Sir, some things are meant to be experienced when they happen. Hang tight sir, hang tight.” Phil sighed and walked to the periphery of the gardens with his wife.
Mom noticed the large van with its crew unloading the chairs ordered for our celebration. Smiling, she said, “At least one thing is going as planned. People will have seats for comfort.”
Dad gave mom a supportive kiss to share understanding between them.
He asked mom, “What do you think of this Juan guy?” I was adorned in bright-colored summer dress, loafers, and short blond hair. Having heard their exchange, I added, “Juan has a good sense of humor and quite the memory for names, Scriptures, and pleasant manner,”
“Does he go to church?” Phil asked.
“We go to his Bible Study on Friday evenings. We call it Sabbath time.”
As winter was releasing its grip, Chris and I were seated in the Olive Garden restaurant. We liked the warm, Italian soup, and were awaiting another helping. It was the middle of March. Our wedding date would be in July.
Chris said, “I like your idea for us each to select one person for best man and maid of honor; to me, the emphasis should be our Covenant. The botanical garden illustrates some of God’s creation, do you agree?”
“Have you chose your best man?”
“Have you chose your best woman?”
“I asked you first.”
Without cue we answered together, “Samantha Andrew.”
The waiter approached asking, “Interrupting something?”
“No,” Victoria said, adding, “He always talks over me.”
“What about the person who will pronounce us husband and wife?” Chris asked.
“My parents want us to…”
“Don’t go down that trail, honey. We’re talking about our shared day, one of a kind, our wedding day.”
“I know, but we are going to be a part of each other’s family. You want to live with the fall-out?” I asked. Yet, I knew well how my parents bordered extreme on keeping traditions and certain customs.
“How about we ask Juan Castro to do our Covenant,” Chris stated. We had been attending his informal studies on Friday evenings for a few months.
“Do you think he’ll dress in a suit and tie?”
“We like him. Do we really care that he’s super casual?” Chris asked.
“Well, my parents are choosy about the impressions people give off,” I said. Chris nodded as if to convey he would see what he could work out with Juan. I smiled and hoped he picked up on my feeling relieved at his effort.
Unlike Chris, my parents have been a large part of my life for twenty-four or so years. I’m not ready to do the “leave and cleave” thing that people say marriage involves. My parents like Chris, but they remind me I am the one who will be living with him.
Over yet another bowl of soup, Chris commented, “My parents drummed into me that one is on their own as of age nineteen, for me that’s the past 7 years.”
“I guess this is a difference for us. My parents are near at hand and yours, well, they live an hour away and act distant,” I said.
“They act distant, as you put it because I’m an independent adult.”
“Putting it that way, I agree with you. Hey, what food do we want to serve our guests?” I asked, ready for a topic change.
“What do you think of some nonalcoholic beverages and assorted deli trays,” I asked. Chris nodded and smacked his lips to show agreement. He interjected that if the weather turned sour, the gardens had a good sized pavilion we could utilize for the wedding.
Given our situation, we had done much of the organizational plan. We had won the services of an event planner from a local bridal show the previous February. A summer day in July seemed like far-off occurrence as a snowfall limited visibility the day of the bridal show. The event planner had arranged the caterer, scheduled use of the botanical gardens facility, and helped coordinate what the wedding party would wear for their Covenant ceremony.
On the last Tuesday in April, the tennis courts on campus were nearly full of amateurs when Chris and Juan arrived courtside. A mostly sunny afternoon with a few clouds darting about provided backdrop.
“Hey, before we start I would like to make a bet,” Chris said, as he took practice swings with his tennis racket.
“A nice refreshing beer after I show you who’s boss?” Juan teased.
“We can do that. I had something else in mind.”
“I should have known.”
“Victoria and I would like you to wear a suit and tie, or at least shirt and tie when you lead us in our Covenant.”
“My brand is dress for the people. Did the Messiah or disciples go about in suits and ties?”
“Don’t know. I went to church once in a while during my youth,” Chris stated.
“I’ll do the shirt and tie, not the suit, shirt, and tie,” Juan said, stomping his foot on the perimeter of the court. Both men shook hands. Final result, Juan won the games and the bet. After, they drove to a bar – It was Juan’s day on the tennis court beating Chris in three sets. Seated at the bar-and-grill where they enjoyed beer and hotdogs grilled to perfection.
Summer was in full swing. When Chris arrived home from work, two messages awaited on his answering service. The first, was the event planner notifying him that seven candlesticks, brightly colored, with engraved words, would be placed on the tabletops to ornament their occasion. The words would together say, “Covenant made before God and before you”, the desire for the wedding itself to leave an impression versus decorations, the weather, and garden setting.
The second call, more concerning, was his mother, Glenda.
“Your dad is in the hospital for observation. His bouts of angina have increased in frequency.” Chris called home and led off with the bottom line question,
“Mom, I got your message. Do you and Dad plan to attend our wedding?”
“We would like to, son. However, that’s up to the doctors at the moment.”
“How come it can’t be up to you?” Chris asked.
“They know more than…” Her voice trailed off.
“I don’t want to argue about this. Keep me posted as Dad is one-third of our family.” His Mom agreed to do so. She would be dividing her time between home and the hospital, and did not use a mobile device.
Chris called Victoria and shared the news of the day with her. They agreed that their Covenant would still go on as scheduled. If Dad’s condition worsened, they would adjust accordingly and make the necessary decisions.
The covenant ceremony was minutes away. Nearly forty guests occupied tables, a musician played classical guitar music as background.
Juan greeted guests and made sure all was in place: the centerpiece candlesticks, Bible readings projected on a screen, microphone and card table serving as a makeshift podium.
Minutes before the ceremony, Juan spoke with Samantha, Andrew, Chris and Victoria. He encouraged them to not be nervous, chill, see this as a milestone shared between family and friends.
Unfortunately, Glenda and Aaron were unable to attend. He was still hospitalized, and condition remained doubtful, when Chris spoke with his mother that morning.
Phil quietly listened to the chatter, prelude, and thought how God may view this wedding. He resigned himself to conclude – this would end up being a mockery to church and the staid traditions. God’s grace would surely be necessary as church, traditional music, The Lord’s Prayer, a hymn or two had all been abandoned.
The wedding party took their places at the center of the garden area. Samantha, maid of honor, read the scripture advising husbands and wives to share mutual love and devotion in a similar way Messiah demonstrated his love towards people. Andrew read from another portion of Scripture about God completing creation by forming man and woman.
A bright red candle glowed nearby to illuminate the occasion. Juan continued the Covenant ceremony saying,
“We are gathered here to witness something momentous. Chris and Victoria, two persons each with a deep trust in God, are making a Covenant to stick together in the good, the bad, the ugly of this life until they are called into eternity by the Lord. The closest example of Covenant we have today may be the contractual agreement. However, a Covenant made before God has an added degree of seriousness and personal responsibility because this is done in God’s presence.”
Martha fumbled her necklace as Juan spoke. She had tears of joy for their daughter, anxiety about the ceremony and road ahead that Victoria may travel. They liked Chris, or better yet, tolerated him. He was a Messianic believer, not a Protestant Christian like themselves. She thought, “It’s too bad the Puritans are no longer a religious option.”
During his talk, a bee landed on Phil and proceeded to sting him. Quietly, and in the quiet of a moment, Phil was heard to express an expletive giving God something to do about this. Juan, and a few others, glanced back towards Phil with an expression conveying understanding.
Chris and Victoria exchanged vows. They promised to support one another, share this walk called life together, listen to one another, build a sense of home and belonging together, and share intimate moments together. At that moment, Andrew felt the onset of an acute sneezing fit. He had the ring that Juan would be asking for in moments. He motioned to Chris and Juan, but could not get their attention. Sneezing began. Some bursts were more loud than others.
“Please present the ring,” Juan was heard to say. A few more audible sneezes came forth as Juan requested the ring another two times.
“Come get it,” Andrew blurted. Onlookers murmured as the incident continued.
“Juan, get the ring from Andrew,” Chris said.
“Has he been tested for COVID?” Juan asked.
“Not sure, but get the ring, okay?”
Juan hesitated, stepped near Andrew and directed him to toss the ring into Juan’s open hands. Andrew did as directed, and the ceremony resumed.
Once vows and rings were exchanged, and order restored, Juan quipped, “You may kiss your wife. Even Andrew and Pam, or none of us here, will stand in the way of you beginning to live out your united life.”
The crowd applauded and cheered when Juan presented the couple as husband and wife. He concluded the half-hour ceremony reciting a Hebrew blessing that is said in the synagogue anytime a book of the Torah is completed in public reading, or to begin the new Torah cycle at a set time in Fall.
He directed people to note this on the screen and recite the English transliteration in unison:
“Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazeik. Be strong, be strong, and we will strengthen each other.”
The attendees broke out in applause, some congratulatory cheers, and then mingled as the food was set out for the reception.
Juan asked Phil and Martha their thoughts about the ceremony and the new beginning taken by their daughter and new son-in-law?
“I’m glad you worked in a little liturgy at the end. God likes liturgy,” Phil said.
“Sorry Glenda and Aaron couldn’t be here. I hope he’ll be all right,” Martha said.
“I think the newly weds will go see them ASAP,” Juan said, then excused himself to chat with others.
The next day, Victoria and I drove the short distance to go visit My parents, Aaron and Glenda. We took along a video copy of the ceremony, either to view together, or let my parents view in privacy.
“Welcome to the family,” Aaron said to Victoria, squeezing her hand as they stood at Aaron’s bedside. A heart monitor beeped in the background.
“He’s going to have surgery,” Glenda said, tears in the corner of her eyes.
“Dad, what are the surgeons planning to do?” Chris asked.
“Couple stents. Your uncles had them and are still fat and sassy,” he cajoled.
“Surgery is tomorrow,” Glenda added.
“We brought some wedding cake,” Victoria said, reaching for four small paper plates and placing a piece of vanilla cake on each plate.
“Tell us about the big day,” Aaron said.
“Dad, we had close to forty-five guests. Our friend, Juan Castro, did a nice job officiating our wedding,” Chris said.
“What will you remember from your special day?” Glenda asked, facing Victoria.
“One thing was when a bee stung my dad. He could be heard asking God to damn this frickin bee.”
Chris added, “My best man had an acute sneezing attack and took some time and effort to get him to turn over the ring.”
“I wish we could have been there,” Glenda said, laughing over the incident shared.
A little while later, we left the hospital and spent the night with Glenda, and stayed with her through the surgical procedure. All had gone well. Aaron would remain in hospital for a couple days for observation.
“Mom, I am glad we had this visit. We’re going to head off and enjoy a few days near Niagara Falls. But we will stop in on the way back,” I said. Victoria too, echoed her sentiments, and thanks for being part of their family.
“We are glad for both of you. Again, welcome to the family, Victoria,” Glenda said. The three shared in a mutual embrace.
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