Marilynne Robinson's novel Gilead is the fictional journal of Rev. John Ames. One of the characters woven throughout the narrative is a young man named Jack Boughton, the son of his best friend. Near the end of the novel, Jack - a ne'er do well with an ambiguous moral compass - is preparing to leave town, and old Rev. Ames asks if he might bless him. Jack agrees, takes off his hat, and Rev. Ames places his hand on Jack's head while repeating the words from the book of Numbers: "The Lord make his face to shine upon thee..."
And Ames writes in his journal: "I told him it was an honor to bless him. And that was...absolutely true. In fact I'd have gone through seminary and ordination and all the years intervening for that one moment."
When I read those words something stirred within me. To have one's whole career, and one's whole life, summed up in one precious moment is truly a gift of grace. And I was gifted in just such a way recently.
Almost a year ago it was decided that my daughter, Meg, and her fiancé would be married in his Catholic church and I would assist the officiating priest. Father Carl, a man I have known and admired for many years, offered me the opportunity to do the sermon (or "homily" as his tradition calls it). At first I declined, believing it would be too difficult an emotional task. But then I began to wonder if a sermon could be a gift to my daughter and new son-in-law. When I asked Meg about it she said she had been thinking she wanted me to do a sermon at her wedding. That clinched it, of course.
So I set about the daunting task of figuring out something worthwhile to say at my own daughter's wedding, words that wouldn't be mere platitudes or crass sentimentalism. I finally settled on a text from John 15 where Jesus talks about the mystery of "abiding" in him and with each other, and heard those words echoed in a song I know in which two people confess to each other, "Who can say if I've been changed for the better? But because I knew you, I've been changed for good."
I had no idea if the sermon was any good, and I was riddled with even more doubt than usual when I stood up to preach. But I gave it my best shot.
And when I finished, Meg gazed at me with tear-rimmed eyes and whispered two words to me:
I'd have gone through seminary and ordination and all the years intervening for that one moment. I'd have gone through Meg's childhood and adolescence and all the years intervening for that one moment. It was as if my whole career as a minister and my entire life as a parent had been leading up to that one brief moment and those two simple words.
Thank you, God, for moments of grace. Thank you, God, for moments of blessing.