Well, there are some things that you just never expect to do in life. And one of them is marrying your mother, or rather, officiating at your mother’s wedding. Then again, I’m sure that just a few years ago Mom and Jerry wouldn’t have thought that they would be getting married again, after having lost their beloved spouses in the space of just a few weeks. But here we are, and in an Episcopal Church in Massachusetts, no less. They even had to go to a Massachusetts court room to ask a judge for permission to marry. Mom and Jerry are living witnesses to the fact that life is always full of crazy twists and turns, with something new and unexpected around every corner.
And as it happens, those new and unexpected experiences can happen at any moment, even in the weirdest of circumstances—like a church lutefisk supper. I don’t know why, but somehow, lutefisk—that smelly, toxic Scandinavian delicacy made of codfish soaked in lye and then smothered in butter or cream--always seems to want to make an appearance when I start talking about Minnesota Lutherans, or at least when I talk about my mom, and she says doesn’t even like the stuff (though I have witnessed her eat it on more than one occasion). And today is no different since, as it happens, Mom and Jerry first took notice of each other when they and a group from their church were out on a field trip checking out other churches’ lutefisk suppers (why, I have yet to understand). By chance they ended up sitting next to each other, and looking down at their “appetizing” plates of white fish, white sauce, and white potatoes, my mom said to Jerry, “It’s never a good sign when the fish jiggles.” Flirting over lutefisk. Only in Minnesota.
So, it was lutefisk that brought Mom and Jerry together initially, and in a way, it’s lutefisk that brings them here to Emmanuel this afternoon. Now, of course, they had been planning to get married for some time, but they also really wanted to get out of Minnesota, since this weekend their church is holding its own second annual lutefisk supper (they were here last year for the first annual lutefisk supper, as well). That’s what Lutheran churches in Minnesota do for fundraisers. Now you know why I turned Episcopalian. We have wine tastings; they have lutefisk suppers. And as we approach Thanksgiving and then Advent, the Minnesota Lutherans are entering lutefisk season big time.
Garrison Keillor says, “Every Advent we entered the purgatory of lutefisk, a repulsive gelatinous fishlike dish that tasted of soap and gave off an odor that would gag a goat. We did this in honor of Norwegian ancestors, much as if survivors of a famine might celebrate their deliverance by feasting on elm bark. I always felt the cold creeps as Advent approached, knowing that this dread delicacy would be put before me and I'd be told, ‘Just have a little’.” Advent Lutheran Church in Maple Grove, where Mom and Jerry are active members, likes to beat the rush by holding their lutefisk dinner in November, so as not to conflict with other churches’ suppers. But since my mom is mostly Swedish and Jerry is mostly German, they aren’t so thrilled about this largely Norwegian custom. (Even my godmother Sara, who’s also here and is Norwegian, won’t eat the stuff). So, now you know what they gave up (or are escaping) to be married this weekend.
And I bet you thought you were safe, didn’t you, Mom and Jerry? What you don’t know is that we have a tasty surprise waiting in the parish hall! Actually, we don’t have any lutefisk here—you can tell by the fact that people aren’t running out of the church from the smell. But the women’s group seriously did offer to make it (along with a Jell-o-salad)! However, instead, the only Scandinavian delicacy, which really is a delicacy that everyone will enjoy, is a fabulous three-tiered Swedish Princess Torte. That seemed like a much more pleasant way to celebrate a wedding. And in honor of Jerry’s German roots, you’ll notice that most of the music in today’s ceremony is German—Bach, Pachelbel, Handel, Beethoven.
As much as we like to joke, more than lutefisk bringing Mom and Jerry together, it would seem more likely that it was God who brought them together after they each suffered the devastating loss of their beloved spouses—George and Jeannie--in December 2008. Who else but God could have arranged such a thing? Now, I have no doubt that if Mom and Jerry hadn’t met they each would have survived just fine. They both have lots of wonderful people in their lives—friends and family—who wanted to help them get through the trauma of loss. But, of course, life is not only about surviving. Life is really about living.
For Christians, for those who set their trust in Jesus, life is about living the promise and the joy of the resurrection each and every day. And, as we have to be reminded again and again, the resurrection that Jesus promises us is not only something that we experience after we die (though I certainly believe that Jeannie, George, and my Dad--Peter, are experiencing that joy even now), but resurrection is also, and just as importantly, something that Jesus wants us to experience each and every day on this side of life as well. That’s why he said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
And anyone who has seen the joy in Mom’s and Jerry’s eyes over the past few days can’t help but feel that together, in their relationship, they are experiencing the joy of the resurrection even now. Their happiness and love for each other is obvious—to their family and friends who have flown here to Massachusetts for this special weekend, as well as those back in Minnesota; to the judge at the courthouse in Quincy who was delighted to approve their marriage license request; and even to people sitting at the next table in an Italian restaurant in the North End. In a very real way, Mom and Jerry are living witnesses to the power of the resurrection.
Of course they know that every day won’t be as perfect as a beautiful fall day in New England. Much as we (and they) may like it to be, life together isn’t all smiles and Swedish Princess Torte wedding cake. Some days will probably feel a lot more like smelly old lutefisk. Because that’s just the way life is. But that’s also when that same resurrection faith will give them the strength, patience, and courage they will need to work through whatever problems they face, ever confident that joy is stronger than sadness, and that hope is always more powerful than despair.
So, here we are in another day on a twisty journey through life. And it’s a beautiful day. It's warm, the leaves are vibrant in their rainbow of colors; joy, love, and resurrection is in the air. I have no doubt that for Mom and Jerry, as for all of us, there will be many sharp curves, bumps in the road, and plenty of unexpected things around corners, maybe even a lutefisk supper or two. But the good news for them, and for us, is that they will have the love and support of each other as they walk along, arm in arm, strengthened and supported by their families, by friends, by faith communities here and in Minnesota, and most especially by the God who is constantly bringing us new and abundant life, the God who is the source of all love.To whom be the glory: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.