Last Sunday morning’s Youth Service I continued my series on Basic Christian doctrine. Right now we are exegetically going through Matthew 5, 6, and 7, other wise known as Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Sunday I went over “Blessed are those who Mourn” better translated “Happy are those who Mourn, for they shall be comforted.” It got me thinking about a crazy experience I had a number of years ago. This story would be the antithesis of Jesus’ exhortation; a sorta “what not to do”. Either way, the story:
The Wedding that could’ve waited
If you have read here enough you now know that for a number of years I was a professional wedding DJ. I spent three years worth of weekends Dj-ing everytype of wedding, at every type of venue you can possibly imagine within a 100 mile radius of Kansas City. The worst wedding I ever DJed was back in the summer of 2004. The wedding reception was about 45 minutes away in an old barn just outside of Clinton Missouri.
I showed up at the barn an hour and a half before the reception as per usual. It was always a bit of an adventure to walk into a venue to see what you had to work with set up wise. I walked in to survey the lay out and figure out the best place to put my lights, Sound System etc. As I walked toward the old stage at the other end of the dusty room, I heard subtle sobs from the kitchen at the back of the auditorium. I figured it was nothing, as you learn, sometimes weddings are just emotional for people. You learn to keep your head down, mind your business, make people have fun, and you’ll get paid well.
I pulled up my truck to the back door, and begin unloading my equipment. Poles, Light Cans, Amps, Speakers, it was the one part of the job I disliked the most. As I was hoisting one of the 60 pound Speakers above my head to set a top a pole, I was startled by horrific sounds come from the kitchen. Nearly dropping the speaker on my head, I regained control and got it up. I turned and ran toward the kitchen thinking maybe someone had been hurt. I walked in to find three older woman dressed up for the wedding, huddled together on the ground screaming, crying, and sobbing. Since it didn’t seem to be a physical injury, I paused a little hoping the wails of mourning would subside long enough to find out what was going on. I went and grabbed a tissue box I had seen in the lobby earlier. I placed my hand on one woman’s back to console her and hand her the box. Her lip quivering as she looked up at me and simply said, “He’s dead!”
It took the women about fifteen minutes more to gather their composer. The woman I handed the tissue box to pulled the other ladies up, “Alright girls, we gotta pull it together! There’s work to be done yet”. Puzzled, I asked her what was going on. Straightening her dress and wiping her eyes so as to keep the black mascara under them in place, she tells me the story:
“The bridal party was driving back from Kansas City this morning and The groom’s father Chet decided to stay behind to get something special for his son on his ‘Big Day’. He was running late to the pictures before the ceremony, so he was a speed’n down hwy 50. He took a corner a little sharp as did the guy on the other side of the road. They hit head on, and he died instantly. The Police officer that responded, saw the wedding gift and invitation and sped up here to inform us about 30 minutes ago. Oh God! How could this happen!”
She was interrupted by her own sobbing that had started again. At this point I too had tears. I put my arm around the lady and comforted her. I assumed that the wedding was called off for the day. Once she regained her composer I told her to tell the Bride I’ll tear up the contract, and come back and do it for free whenever they decide to reschedule. She got very firm with me. She grabbed my hands tightly, “Don’t you dare do anything of the sort! We are having this wedding today and you are the paid entertainment! Now you buck up, finish setting up your equipment and show this crowd the best night of their lives Or I wont pay you a single penny! you understand!?” One thing I’ve learned about older mid-west women, when they demand something of you there is only one reply that will suffice: “Yes maam”. That was mine.
An hour went by after I had completely set up my equipment, and people were finally starting to trickle in. Normally when the guests trickle in from a ceremony they are generally happy, shaking hands with people they haven’t seen in a long time, lots of smiles, hugs, etc. Not this group; It was like watching a bad Sean Penn movie. One of the ladies was even standing at the entrance passing out tissues to the misty eyed people walking in. Meanwhile I’m sitting behind my sound board on stage praying that they at least decide to cancel the reception. I look at my watch, and it’s time for me to stand outside and greet the Bride and Groom.
The limousine pulls up about fifteen minutes late carrying the bride, groom, and entire wedding party. I help them out and put them into a line in the order I’m going to announce them. The groom takes a minute, but emerges from the limo. I pull him and the bride aside. “I heard what happened. The food is ready to go- why don’t we announce you guys, eat, do the formalities all at the front end, so we can end early and get you out of here.” “NO WAY!” The bride says “You are going to make us party! His dad would’ve wanted it! We singed a contract for 6 hours, now I expect you to perform the full 6 hours. You got it!?” Continuing with my learned wisdom concerning mid west women I replied, “Yes Maam”.
As you can imagine the next 6 hours felt like 6 weeks. The Father of the bride paid extra to make the bar completely open. In the two hours it took to get through dinner to the cake cutting, I already had a guy on the ground passed out drunk. It only took those two hours to figure out the groups’ collective strategy for dealing with grief: suppress it with entertainment and alcohol… LOTS of alcohol. Finally my time was coming to an end. Most of the people had gone except the bride and groom’s families and their dates. I programed my computer to an auto pilot song list, and spent the last two hours outside trying to escape the madness. The bride was passed out laying on top of one of the tables, and the groom was twirling on the dance floor with his pants on his head as his friends laughed and poured beer out on the floor in “memory” of his dad.
11pm meant I was off the clock as far as the contract was concerned. I walked back in to a room of drunken zombies. Many passed out, ones that weren’t were almost there. I figured I couldn’t leave until I knew that they all had a way to get home safely, as no one was in any condition to drive. The owner of the barn said he had a bunk house, so we helped everyone in. But it was a sad state of affairs- and reminds me how happy I am that I don’t have that job any more.
Often I notice this scenario with friends, family, on Facebook, in the news. Our cultural strategy to deal with pain, to deal with sin, to deal with shame, is simply to cover it up. We try to do everything we can to distract ourselves from anything that is hard or painful. As a culture we are monumentally afraid that Nietzsche was right when he said “if you gaze into the abyss the abyss gazes into you.” We are afraid of pain, afraid of sadness. We are afraid of that moment before we sleep when the bed room door is closed and we have nothing but our pain and grief starring us in the face. We are afraid to embrace the pain, embrace the grief, embrace mourning.
Oh but there is hope! We are created beings. Beings with purpose. Beings that operate most efficiently when we follow the instruction manual we’ve been given. Jesus lays out these instructions in Matthew 5,6, and 7. He gives us the road to happiness. He tells us that the only way to deal with the pain of sin and circumstance is to mourn it- not ignore it.
“Happy are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” The promise is comfort. Grieving brings freedom to our hearts, ignoring it restricts our hearts. It robs us the ability to love well, and fosters shame and bitterness in our hearts. When pain and hardship come, like the loss of a loved one, mourning them is vital to keeping one’s heart alive. I pray for those families from that wedding often. I pray the Father compels their hearts Christ so they can know the wisdom of functioning the way they were created to. There is real hope and fulfilling comfort for all those that give themselves to Christ.