Family doesn't have to be your relatives. Family means that your life is part of someone else's, like sections of hair that need each other to form a braid. — Michelle Bender.
Something I've always known about families is that they don't always have to be related people, related by blood, that is. Family can be people you related to, people you have something in common with, people with whom you are in community, and people who come into your life almost by coincidence and set up a place all their own in your heart. I've got lots of friends and I love them all, but you know, sometimes there are just special people that do have a place no one else could possibly fill, people that, that no matter how long it's been since you've seen each other or talked, when we connect it's like the years have become minutes and we pick up immediately where you left off.
I got an invitation in the mail this past week to a celebration, the 70th wedding anniversary of two people I've known for probably 35 years or so, and who have been like a family to me in every good sense of the word. It will be a celebration, because honoring a commitment of 70 years is something indeed worth celebrating. I saw a quote from Paul Sweeney that struck me when I found it just after receiving the invitation. "A wedding anniversary is the celebration of love, trust, partnership, tolerance, and tenacity. The order varies for any given year." I have a feeling any marriage of any length would find it applicable, and especially those who have lasted for decades.
These friends, a priest and his wife, have been warm, full of hospitality, full of laughs, full of good food, good company, and willing to share. There are both highly intelligent people, and very talented in very different ways. Perhaps that's what has helped make their marriage survive. That plus they have three great kids, they have grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The whole family devoted to each other and I think that has helped make the marriage strong. It's only right to celebrate an event like this for special people like them. Even though its Lent, it's time to celebrate two lives which, while maybe not perfect (at least not 100% of the time, anyway), are nonetheless an example of commitment.
We don't usually consider Lent as a time for celebrations. Lent is supposed to be a time of reflection and repentance and change. One is supposed to give up things, or at least that's used to be the prevailing thought. It was a big deal to give up coffee, or chocolate, or maybe going to the movies for Lent, but that has sort of taken on a new emphasis. It is not so much about giving up of favorite things, although that is still encouraged, but now we are encouraged to take on things, usually charitable works or more religious practice and reading. At any rate, Lent is a time of solemnity and, sometimes, a bit overwhelming when we consider our very own sins for any length of time.
There's a saying by Robert Orben that makes me chuckle but also reflects a deeper truth. "Most people would like to be delivered from temptation but would like it to keep in touch." It's hard to try and change habits and give up our beloved little sins for 40 days. It's hard to be reminded of our sinful natures and our shortcomings, and sometimes that can get to be just a little much. It can become very depressing. Of course, it's good for us to examine our faults and flaws, although it's not as easy as examining other people's. Still, in Lent, we're supposed to think about our own sins and how they need to be fixed, changed, or done away with.
Then, in the midst of all this, there comes a celebration like my friends' wedding anniversary, and you know, why shouldn't we have celebrations during Lent? If I stop and think about it, Lent is 40 days spread over six weeks. That comes out to 6.6666666 days of repentence we round out to 6 days a week. But what about that other day, the day we call Sunday? It's still part of the week, but it's not considered a Lenten day. Oh yes, it the church colors are still the purple of repentance and our readings are generally dealing with sin and salvation from those sins, but Sunday is like a day off, a time to celebrate.
We gather on Sunday in church and lo and behold, even though we have put away a specific word like "Alleluia" which is word of joy, we still have a celebration. We still gather as a family to celebrate the Eucharist, and that's a celebration. It's joyfully gathering together in the presence of God to partake of a family meal instituted by Jesus to join us together in our faith. It's not simply a reenactment, it is a celebration in every sense of the word.
During Lent we celebrate things like birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, births, and promotions, and we look forward to Easter where there will be celebrations of baptisms where new Christians will be brought into the church as we rejoice in the resurrection of our Lord. Then will celebrate the Eucharist on Easter just like we do every Sunday and it will be another celebration for us.
So to all those who celebrate something during Lent, it's cause for joy even in the midst of repentance. So happy anniversary, Jack and Bettie. May you continue to remind us that a braid is made up of individual strands, and each strand strengthens the whole exponentially. May you have more anniversaries, family births, baptisms, confirmations, weddings and just joyful get-togethers.
For all of us, go thou and celebrate. God bless.
Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, March 4, 2017.