The scripture readings are Colossians 3:12-17, Psalm 133, and John 15:9-12. A homily preached at a marriage on October 8, 2010 at All Souls Memorial Episcopal Church, in celebration of Saints Sergius and Bacchus.
If anyone has been to my and Erwin’s apartment, they know that the long wall just inside the entrance is filled with pictures. We’ve been careful to keep everything in black-and-white, even it if was originally in color. That means that the whole wall looks like it’s of a piece. There is the amazing photograph of Erwin being baptized. (I still can’t get over the fact that there’s a photograph of his baptism!. The priest is wearing a nice chasuble; the ladies are wearing mantillas … it’s classic.) And then there’s the picture of my mother’s graduation from nursing training. Also a picture of Erwin’s father, my grandfather, a family portrait. As amazing as our wall might be—it’s not complete. For it to include a full family portrait, it would need to extend far and wide, including all sorts of people, some living, some dead.
Today, we celebrate a family—the family based upon Isaac and Jeff. What might their family portrait look like if we were to paint it or photograph it? It would surely include a lot of greyhounds. It would also have scientists and monastics. But who else? It might have a lot of Methodists, a huge number of Episcopalians, and a worthy number of atheists. [My own take on “atheism” can be discussed in another place. Preferably with good coffee or drinks. And it will help things if the “atheist” has done his or her homework. Don’t blame me for stupid Christians and I won’t blame you for stupid atheists . . . . But I digress.] What is sure, is that there would be all sorts and conditions of people. Every color. Every class. Every persuasion.
This day is special, as we celebrate a family portrait.
It in no way makes any less special the ordinary or extraordinary days of the last 18 years for Isaac and Jeff. But today is special. The family portrait continues. It includes those of us here, those unable to attend, and even those from ancient history.
Today is, incidentally, the feast day for Saints Sergius and Bacchus. We didn’t pick this day intentionally. It was chance, or it was God.
Sergius and Bacchus were third century soldiers who were promoted to a fairly high rank in the Roman army. When the emperor found out they were Christians, he demanded that they make a sacrifice to idols. They refused, and so were persecuted – among which punishments included their military medals being replaced with iron chains as they were paraded through the city, made to wear women’s clothing. [I will make no comment here.] They were sent off to eastern Syria, where the governor had Bacchus beaten, and killed while Sergius was tortured and beheaded.
A cult around the two sprang up almost immediately. Their friendship was admired and imitated. Over time, there sprang up rumors that their friendship had perhaps been MORE than friendship, and the scholar Jon Boswell argued that Sergius and Bacchus had been united in a “brother-making” ceremony by the church, a forerunner of what we might call a same-sex union.
Our family portraits include many people—some saints known, and some saints unknown. And some, saints-in-the-making.
There’s a great story of Nathan Baxter, the former dean of the National Cathedral, who officiated at an interfaith service at the Cathedral some years ago. The procession of various faiths came in, and then the Hare Krishnas came in dancing, playing tambourines, twirling around. The dean thought this might be his last day, that people would get angry with him for including so many different kinds of people and faiths. But just as the dean’s anxiety grew, he heard a whisper in his ear: “Nathan! Get used to this, Nathan. Heaven is going to be full of surprises.”
Heaven is full of surprises and life is also full of surprises.
Who would have thought, Isaac and Jeff, 18 years ago, that your lives would include being in this place, on this day, with these people. But here we are. And we are not only glad. We are made more by knowing you, by learning from you, and by sharing in your love.
Thanks be to God (and Life) for blessings, for laughter, and for family portraits that just keep getting bigger.