A Wedding Homily by Marcus Curnow based on Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-15, 29-40, 12:1-3, 12-13
Ben and Raylene asked me to say a few words to help connect us with the rather unusual fact that we are celebrating their Wedding on Halloween.
The passage we heard read today commences by speaking of faith. It describes faith as
“the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Whether you are religious or not this hope and ‘assurance of things not seen’ is a powerful force in our world which brings a peculiar quality to one’s living and to ones perspective. Of course it can and is used for good or for ill.
That faith has been an important and a good thing in the life and Raylene and Ben and in their journey thus far I would say is evident to many.
Using this faith in ‘things unseen’ I want to suggest to you, and for you to believe, that we are actually surrounded by a crowd that is larger than that at Flemington Racecourse today. A communion of saints, enveloping us as a great cloud of witnesses of the vows that will soon be made.
All Hallows or All Saints Day is traditionally celebrated on 1 November and was initiated in the eighth century by the Catholic Church as a day to commemorate all the “official” Saints or martyrs who didn’t already have a specific day of remembrance. A day for remembering everyone who had been left out. How appropriate for a couple such as Ben and Ray who are so good at including those who are often left out. It has become a day for celebrating all whose lives have inspired us and to reflect on the continued presence of Christ on earth through his followers.
All Souls Day on 2 November is in many ways an extension of All Saints Day, but with particular emphasis on remembering those who have died, as a day to remember “all the dead who have existed from the beginning of the world to the end of time.” A time to reflect on the hope of the Christian faith that is for life beyond this life.
The passage we heard gives a long history of those saints that have gone before us in faith. The list included Kings, martyrs and even a prostitute. It’s your usual wedding crowd, whether our families want to acknowledge it or not! The promises made and witnessed in marriage connect and binds us to families, histories and the generations. Our sense of who we are, our home and our place, our past and in many ways our future.
Ben liked this aspect of All Hallows Day. The emphasis that history is carried by ordinary people in ordinary ways. Dorothy Day the great Catholic activist famously said “Do not call me a Saint, I do not wish to be dismissed so easily” She was someone who emphasised the significance of very ordinary everyday acts of love. The truth is that in many ways each and every day we are called to be saints. To hallow, ‘make holy’ the life in which we share. Christian Marriage is a communal act. Ben and Ray certainly didn’t get to this point by themselves and if they are to persevere they will need the love and support of all of the saints that are gathered here today.
If the day and the passage we heard read and the nature of marriage itself suggests the importance of acknowledging those that have gone before it is significant that our opening ritual acknowledged the traditional owners of the land upon which we picnic today. David Tacey suggests that the cultural ‘mixing’ of Aboriginal spirituality and Christian revelation will give rise to an embodied religious sense, and an awareness of the sanctity and sacramentality of nature. This is not a pagan but a profoundly biblical idea. The biblical witness suggests that the oceans and lands are not inanimate matter but subjects with a voice that can worship the Lord. Some have suggested connections with this idea and that of ‘songlines’ that Aboriginal communities use as navigation stories for finding their way across the country.
If we take these ideas of land seriously it can lead to what some have described as “reverse colonization”. Carl Jung suggested that as we deepen our connection with place, the place slowly conquers us; that
“Man can be assimilated by a country.”
Some indigenous traditions also assert that one cannot conquer foreign soil, because in it there dwells strange ancestor-spirits who reincarnate themselves in the new-born. American Indian Chief Sealth Suaqamish once said,
“At night, when the streets of your cities and villages are silent and deserted, they will throng with the host that once filled, and still love this land, the white man will never be alone.”
The idea of spirits haunting us invokes Halloween, the word that All Hallows Eve has become.
The Celts believed that this magical time of seasonal transition opened up a connection to the dead. They believed that the world of the living was closest to the world of the dead at this time they called Samhain at which the spirits of the dead travelled among the living. At its worst the church objected to the fascination with the spirits of the dead and so began to characterise them as evil forces associated with the devil. That’s where a lot of today’s rather commercialized, Halloween imagery comes from.
Whilst Christianity has no doctrine of reincarnation or ancestral spirits at its best it has been able to adapt to not destroy, but to honor and even fulfill the cultures it interacts with. This positive cultural understanding of the roots of All Hallows Eve and Samhain was the aspect that Raylene was drawn to and it’s very her. Whilst maintaining her own identity she extends a generosity to those who are very different to herself making people feel significant, accepted and loved for who they are.
Tacey suggests it is the power of this ‘spirit of place’, however described, that has caused many sensitive Australians to feel at ‘home’ in Aboriginal Australia. Ched Myers observes these changes in his own life.
“The love in the land has summoned a love in me for it. This love was buried in my soul like the smallest of seeds, placed there by ancestors I never knew.”
“I am convinced that beliefs of traditional cultures not only speak truth but they represent an ultimatum to Christians. Will we continue to ignore the songlines and to excommunicate the spirits of the land in which we dwell? Or can we learn to hear the songlines as essential verses in the earthsong of Gods praise and to see the spirits as part of the great “cloud of witnesses” spoken of in the New Testament book of Hebrews.”
I was trying to think of particular words which captured the particular saintliness of Ben and Raylene. Ben and Ray are deep. So deep it can be almost intimidating for the rest of us at times. Like the Saints of old they have a rich inner life which they each express differently.
Ben’s deep interiority is expressed in a quality of thought. It flows out from the mind in streams of consciousness and passionate inquiry that are cosmic in scope. The soaring legal eagle who’d just as rather be a chook.
Raylene’s deep interiority is expressed in a quality of thoughtfulness. It flows out from the heart to the ‘other’ in streams of love and compassionate presence that are particular in scope. The dignified, steadfast Lizard Queen who’d just as rather be catching crickets and turning them into delicious meals that feed whole communities.
A quality of the ‘inner life’ of faith described in our passage and which united this collection of saints was their deep internal longing for something better, for a better country. Weddings are a time of hope and of longing. Today you are surrounded by people who love you and who long for your best even when we don’t always easily agree on what that best may be. Raylene and Ben share this longing for things unseen. How much of the restless struggle of their union, what attracts them to each other is shaped by the ‘longing for a better country’, another sense of home for each other and their relationship, for our broken earth, and for others who have sometimes all but given up hope for themselves. This has not made it an easy road for them but it is the powerful force of faith that makes such life and such relationships beautiful and thoroughly transforming.
Ben and Raylene however mysterious to say so on Halloween, I want to suggest that in this place today we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses made up of Hebrew Heros, Dreamtime Warriors and a bunch of us ordinary saints who love you very much. For all that you give to us, always know that there is a great crowd barracking for you and cheering you ‘out of the barriers’ today.
May this All Hallows Eve on this Melbourne Cup weekend remind you to,
“run with perseverance the race that is set before you, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame.”
When the sense of home and the country you long for seems far off,
“consider him who endured such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.”
That you may,
“lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.”