The Reverend Dr. Lillian Daniel
April 29, 2007
First Congregational Church,
Scripture: Revelation 21:1-6
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.”
ever been to a wedding reception where the bride sang in her own wedding band?
Musicians do things differently. The wedding reception was held upon the stage
of a grand old theater in
We, the wedding guests, ate our wedding banquet up on that stage and looked out at hundreds of plush empty seats; we were a show with no audience.
Yet on the stage full of tables, there was a smaller stage, for the wedding band. This was a revolving door of musicians, who, according to a carefully planned set list, would get up from their guest tables at the appropriate song, and wander up to join the band, for one song or maybe two. In between each song, one guitarist might hand his instrument to another, or a drummer might stand and make room for drummer number four of the evening. The lead singers changed, as different wedding guests took their turn at the mike.
Thankfully, this was not a karaoke affair, where amateurs torture one another with spur of the moment song choices and alcohol induced confidence, nearly always misplaced. No, this was a carefully choreographed, yet minimally rehearsed, set list that took experienced and gifted musicians from many bands and pulled them together in odd combinations.
Some of the musicians were former band mates to one another, now moved on to be lawyers, and mothers and business people. But many of these wedding guests were still in the music business, playing in bands that record and play shows. Some had been in bands together that were now broken up into new combinations and adventures. All of them wandered forward to sing the songs to celebrate the wedding of the bride, a singer, songwriter, guitar player, and punk rock music activist, and the groom, a journalist who loves music, thank God.
When punk rockers grow up and get married, the celebration is bound to be a little different. Two decades of friendship and musical history crossed the stage that night, as musical memories drew us into a wedding banquet like no other.
As a minister, I have learned that wedding receptions reflect the best and worst of people’s pasts. Here, the past and the present of the gathered community, of the couple and their friends, was present in the setting itself, a huge theater. These were people who were comfortable on stages, either on them as performers, or in front of them as fans, or behind them, as crew, sound and support. So to have the wedding celebration take place there was only natural – as natural as the bride taking her turn at the mike to sing a few numbers with her old friends at her own wedding reception.
The Christian wedding ceremony had taken place in the theater’s lobby. That lobby was ornate, with nooks and crannies for guests to sit on gilt chairs beautifully restored as so many old theaters in cities have been in recent decades. The bride and groom had processed up a winding staircase, to a high alcove where they could look down to see all their guests – who looked like elegantly dressed theater patrons, frozen in the middle of intermission to look upwards at something remarkable, in this case, the wedding.
To get up the stairs, the couple had passed a smaller group of musicians on the landing. They were playing songs the bride had played herself or chosen, as the notes of her past and the people of her past lifted her up into her new life with her husband. There I waited as the minister to perform the wedding of my friend Jenna. It had been over twenty years since she and I had first met, in high school, and it had been sixteen years since we had been locked inside another old theater, in another place and another time.
Sixteen years earlier, long before I was a performer of
wedding ceremonies, I was a bass player in a punk rock band where Jenna was the
singer and song writer, David played guitar, and Stephan was on drums. Sixteen
summers ago, we had been on tour. It was in some ways our first big break, a
trek of several weeks, and many shows, across the
Not many bands can say that they broke up because the bass player went to seminary, but there you have it. I broke up the band when I followed my call to the ministry.
In the book of Revelation, there are many fantastic images. In the one I conjure up today, a bride and groom appear as signs of what heaven may be. “And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” I thought of Jenna, coming up those bridal stairs so beautifully dressed, in a vintage style white lace gown, her red hair cut into a soft bob, when sixteen years ago it had been a wild mass of dreadlocks.
In life, we are constantly moving back and forth in time, back and forth between what was, and was is and what might be. The writer of Revelation never lets you get stuck in only one time zone. He follows that image of the bride with these words: And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals.’ In other words, God’s right here, in the middle of ordinary life, no matter where you are – or where you were.
Sixteen years ago, in the weeks before divinity school, and what would become a ministry of three churches, and an old friend’s wedding, life had seemed very different. If God’s home is among the mortals, we mortals were leading very different lives back then.
The tour of the bands had started in
The crowds picked up when we played in
Later we drove to
We finally arrived in
So for our motley caravan to pull up at this massive old
theater was like the Beverly Hillbillies pulling up in their Appalachian jalopy
As we got closer, we saw that the theater was clearly in bad shape. Seeing our band’s name on the marquee had been exciting, but thick chains on the main doors did not bode well. We saw people waiting to see us at a side door. We were ushered in, not to the theater, but to the lobby, which had been set up with a few folding chairs, plugs to use, and a stench that indicated no cleaning in years. The lobby was our venue. As for the main theater, we were told it had been condemned.
So poor were the kids in
I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,’ See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’
It was that vision that would call me to leave this life and pursue another. In the midst of a depressed city, artists danced around on a condemned stage, with all the joy that musicians can bring to an impossible situation. In music, we transcend the reality, don’t we? In music and art, we imagine a better world, and imagine, in an empty condemned theater, a show that will rock the world. That’s also what we do in the life of faith, is it not?
When I arrived at
Later, as I had the privilege of performing my old friends’ wedding, the lead singer of our band, I remembered the days when we had been on that tour, and how now the lines between cool and uncool seemed so much blurrier. Today Jenna was singing in her own wedding band, but she and her new husband had also started attending church, and I was reunited with friends from the old days, and it was easy.
I realized that sometimes in our lives, we think there are these breaks, these moments when we make a big change. We join a new church, we make a move, we form a new relationship, we pick a new path. Looking back, we were always playing the same song, just different variations.
I thought about how being a bass player is a lot like being a minister. You lay down the beat, trying to keep it solid and true, but allowing others to shine, to sing, to play, to dance, as God wants. For really, in music, the heart of it, the mystery that draws us into the music we love the most, is that we know it’s not just about us. The notes and sounds come together, the different people play their roles, and yet what is produced is somehow so much better. A lot like the church – where you join a band that is better than you are, and the tour is always just beginning.
 Revelation 21:1-6