I brought Jacob to a wedding last weekend. You know, Jacob the biblical heel-grabber, trickster, tent-dwelling, mama’s boy? Not usually thought of as a model for 21st century marriage ceremonies.
Particularly since his own marriage history is so strange: Boy meets Girl. Boy falls in love with Girl. Boy talks to her father. Father agrees to a marriage if Boy will work for him for seven years. Boy marries Girl…but its the wrong girl because Father has slipped Older Sister into the service under the veil of darkness. Boy makes second bargain with Father. Boy marries Girl—the right one this time.
You see what I mean. Officiating ministers don’t tell this story at weddings. Unless they’re me.
But what I really wanted to talk about was not Jacob’s marriages but his encounter with Esau on the road back home. Esau, his twin. Esau, whom he had tricked out of blessing and birthright. Esau, who when last Jacob heard of him, was muttering murderous threats against him.
On the night before his reunion with his brother, Jacob sat alone on the banks of the Jabbok. He had heard that Esau was coming to meet him with 400 armed men…and that didn’t sound good. So Jacob split up his family and his cattle and his servants and sent them across the river in two parties so that maybe some of them would survive.
Jacob spent the night wrestling with God. And that’s not just a figure of speech. He threw down with a man who turned out to be God. So much so that he left the match with a limp. He renamed the spot Peniel, which means, “the face of God,” because he had seen God face to face.
The next morning he’s across the river and he meets Esau on the road. Burly, hairy, huntsman, aggrieved Esau. Jacob falls at his feet and begs mercy…only to look up in his brother’s face to see tears. Esau embraces him and for the second time Jacob says that he has seen the face of God. “To see your face,” he tells his brother, “is truly like seeing the face of God.”
It’s a beautiful wedding story. Really! Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams once offered a wonderful interpretation of the wedding tradition of unveiling in his book A Ray of Darkness. The couple, he says, in that act:
“are promising to look at each other for the rest of their lives, and to be looked at by each other, lovingly, faithfully, and, above all, truly and honestly. The married man or woman has opened the doors to let another person in.”
It is an echo of God’s unveiling in the incarnation and crucifixion. “There can be no reconciliation between God and humanity,” Williams says, “until they see one another face to face.”
What I’m saying is that marriage is a disarming. In that act, both partners say, “I am taking down all my walls. I am taking down all those things I do for self-protection. I am laying aside all my defenses and all my weapons. I am making myself absolutely vulnerable to you. I am giving you everything I’ve got to give – the good and the bad, the richer and the poorer, the sickness and in health. And all I have to offer is that I will receive the same from you. All of you.”
It’s what Jacob has to offer Esau. It’s what Jesus offers. That’s so much more than the unicorn and rainbow promises of unending bliss. It’s the risk of being unalterably wounded and yet the potential for being absolutely known. It’s the chance to see the the face of God.
It’s the risk of being unalterably wounded and yet the potential for being absolutely known.
Jacob. Totally appropriate for a wedding. Totally.
[with best wishes and blessings for Brian & Jennifer Stern Schollhammer. It was a beautiful night.]