I am a priest in the Episcopal Church. For those of you who don’t know what that is, don’t fret…just know that it was the religion of most of the writers and signers of the Declaration of Independence; a group who understood a little something about being oppressed, and a group that understood the importance of freedom, liberty, and justice.
When I cry I know that I have tapped into something that is important, be it important to me, a portion of humanity, or to God. I have a master’s degree in Divinity. I’m not saying this because I think I’m better than those who don’t have this degree, but I tell you so you know that I am actually educated in Christianity. I am not an arm chair quarterback when it comes to matters pertaining to God. My education requires many levels of understanding, not just what can be understood to a single person living in a single place and time.
My tears most often show up for two reasons. Either I am witnessing people being treated in such a way that would make Jesus cry, or I am witnessing a moment when the grace of Christ has created healing in people’s lives who have been formerly cast aside by those who claim to be followers of Jesus. These reasons are often mixed together, because I often find them on the opposing sides of the same situation.
In my position as a priest I share my life with a diverse group of humans. I walk with the most conservative and the most liberal people. This walk connects me to their deepest joys and pains; it also connects me on a deeper level with my own. It is this connection that gives birth to my tears, many happy ones and many sad. The Episcopal Church is a Christian denomination that is both catholic and protestant. We are the middle way, a group who has never been expected to agree with one another, but a group who is expected to share in the sacred meal of Christ found in a common loaf of bread and a common cup of wine. We are to share in Communion, not despite our differences, but because of them. We consume the empathy of Jesus, not as a reward for being good, but rather as the nourishment that helps us see Christ more clearly in the world around us.
My empathy for those who are in my life is a mirror of the Christ that is in me. In the state of empathy there is no judgement, but the creating of a holy space for the person or people I am with, be it face to face or in long-distance prayer. This holy space to sit with people has gotten very big this week. In my own family and in the congregation I serve, there are faithful people who believe homosexuality is a sin worthy of damnation and others who believe love is love.
There are also those who understand the term marriage and those who only see it as something religious. Marriage is a legal term; it always has been. Marriage from the beginning of recorded history has not been about love, but about a contract pertaining to property and the rights associated with that property. The United States was founded on freedom and equality, and yesterday the equal right to enter into a contract of property and the rights associated with it has been extended to all couples, no matter what reproductive organs they were born with.
I celebrate this…with tears of joy I celebrate this. Marriage is the civil term and Holy Matrimony is the religious term. As a priest I do weddings. During those weddings, I act as an agent of the state to solidify a legal contract between two people about property and the civil rights given to each of them through that contract. As a priest, an agent of the Church, I pronounce God’s blessing on the relationship to be more than something civil and legal. I ask God to bless their relationship to be one based on love…the same kind of love Jesus offered and still gives us; sacrificial love. This love is not required by the government, but it is expected in Holy Matrimony.
My hope is that one day, I will no longer be an agent of the state and a signer of marriage certificates. My hope is that one day we will separate Church and State and require all couples, whether straight or LGBTQ couples, to go to the state and enter into a legal contract with each other. After that is complete, if the couple seeks this union to be blessed by God to be a Holy Sacrament in their lives, then they should come to me and other ministers of God’s word and do whatever is required by their religious tradition to prepare themselves to enter into the covenant of Holy Matrimony. Some ministers will require this to be a covenant between what they consider to be the “proper”genitalia… so be it. For me however, I will require there to be a relationship of love, a holy covenant of love, and all the real struggles that go with it.
Until then, I will continue to cry as I hold each of your happy and sad moments in a holy place, a place of holy disagreement and a place of Holy Communion.
If you have continued to read to this point, I thank you for humoring me.