Last Saturday, I officiated at a wedding for two men, Richard and Mark. For me, it was a Peter the Apostle and Cornelius the Centurion moment.
In the 10th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, an angel appears to Cornelius–a Roman centurion–and tells him to summon Peter to his home in Caesarea. Peter is in Joppa, and while the messengers are on their way, the unsuspecting apostle goes up to the rooftop to pray. His message from heaven arrives in a vision, as Peter falls into a trance and is given a clear message that he is not to consider unclean what God considers clean.
Peter’s arrival at the home of Cornelius sets the stage for one of the most dramatic moments in the New Testament. For Peter to step across the doorstep of Cornelius and enter the home of a Gentile is momentous. We might wonder, “So what’s the big deal?” But in that time and place, for a Jewish man (and an apostle at that!) to enter the home of a Gentile was huge. What happens next is a milestone in the history of the church. The lights come on in the heart and soul of Peter, and standing in the living room of a Gentile, he says: “Now I see that God shows no partiality, but that in every nation the one who reverences God and does what is right is acceptable to God!”
While Peter was speaking the Holy Spirit fell upon everyone in the house, and “the Jewish believers who had come with Peter were absolutely amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit was being poured out on Gentiles also. Then Peter exclaimed, ‘Could anyone refuse water to these Gentiles being baptized–those who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did ourselves?'”
We are not told exactly what this experience was like for Peter, but my guess is that once the lights came on for him, there was nothing half-hearted about his baptism of a room full of Gentiles. I think he may have been surprised by his own whole-heartedness. What would have seemed taboo to Peter such a short time before was now an occasion for great joy.
As I see it, marriage equality is about joy and justice. Most of us have heard by now what is intended to be a clever and funny observation that God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. But it’s not funny if you happen to be Adam and Steve, excluded from the joy of marriage while in a deeply committed relationship marked by love and fidelity. I cannot imagine what it would have felt like 44 years ago to be told that Jean and I could not be married, and for a sizable percentage of the population to assume that our exclusion from the joy and benefits of marriage was okay.
More people are saying “Now I see!” when it comes to marriage equality. I crossed that doorstep some time ago, but walking into the house is not the same as doing the baptism. What I want to report is something other than the joy of Richard and Mark as they spoke their vows to each other. I want to report the joy I felt looking into their faces, and the faces of their friends and family as I said: “Richard…Mark…repeat after me:”
On the wondrous night of the first Christmas, the message from the sky and from the lips of the angel was: “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” The joy is not complete, and justice has not arrived…until it’s for all the people.