The Way of the Cross – Lenten Season 2018
“Then the angel said to me, “Write: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God” (Revelations 19:9 NIV).
“At the same time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom….the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. Later the others also came. “Sir! Sir!” they said. “Open the door for us!” But he replied, “I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.” Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” (Matthew 25:1, 10b-13 NIV).
Tanta Corrie was back. The house was full of people, family members and friends. There was laughter and the clinking of glasses and the squeals of the little ones as they ran through the house. The screen door at the back of the house slammed shut repeatedly until someone thought to prop it open with a pair of boots they found on the back porch.
Melanie had missed her Aunt terribly when she had gone to the big city for three whole weeks. But now there was something different about her. She looked pale and radiant at the same time. Melanie wasn’t certain yet whether that was good or bad.
Tanta Corrie caught her peaking around the kitchen door. She smiled and crooked a finger at her. Melanie didn’t hesitate any longer but ran into the living room, almost colliding with her mother, and then she was in her Aunt’s arms. She could smell her again, the sweet lavender scent that reminded her of springtime in the meadow.
“Oh, Tanta Corrie,” she said. “I missed you so much.” Melanie buried her face against her aunt’s shoulder.
“I missed you too, sweetheart,” Tanta Corrie whispered for her ears alone. She had just turned fifty years old and had never married. When her parents had died many years ago and her sister, Susan, had married, they had insisted that she stay on the farm with them and simply be part of the family for as long as she liked. No one had expected it to last twenty five years. But they were one big, happy family and Tanta Corrie seemed content.
“Well, now that Melanie is here,” Tanta Corrie said, “I have an announcement to make.”
The room hushed. Melanie turned around and looked out at everybody who seemed to be staring at her. She was facing the crowd while Tanta Corrie hugged her from behind. After a few more “hushes” and “quiets” from the impromptu audience, Corrie was ready to talk.
“I’m getting married,” she said simply.
The room was silent. Melanie’s eyes grew wide and her heart was beating loudly in her ears.
“The wedding will be held here in Greenville, in the church.”
Finally, after a long moment, her mother spoke up.
“That’s wonderful Corrie, really. It’s just taking us by surprise, that’s all.” Murmurs of agreement and apology came from everyone in the room.
“That’s all right,” Tanta Corrie said. “I’m a bit surprised too.”
“Who is he?” Elena said. Elena was sixteen and boys fascinated her. “When do we get to meet him?” Others nodded their agreement and the questions started to fly around the room.
“All in good time,” Tanta Corrie said, raising her hands for silence. She was laughing. “Each one of you will meet him one day. He told me that he hopes to meet the whole family soon and all of my friends as well.” Tanta Corrie paused. “I hope all of you will welcome him into your homes and lives.”
What a strange way to talk.
She was only ten years old but she could already tell when the adults were talking in their special code language. Truth to tell, Melanie had no idea what they were talking about most of the time, only that they were doing it and it drove her crazy. Tanta Corrie was doing it now but nobody else, especially the other adults, seemed to realize it. Now that was a real mystery.
Melanie turned to face her.
“Are you going away, Tanta Corrie?” she whispered.
“Yes, sweetie,” she said. “When you get married, like I am, you must go away.”
That didn’t make any sense either.
Melanie felt a soft kiss on the top of her head but she moved away suddenly and tried to run. Before she could get away, Tanta Corrie grabbed her and hugged her tightly for a moment and then let her go.
The rest of the afternoon flew by as the women made their wedding plans and gossiped about the latest scandal in their farming community. Greenville, Pennsylvania, was a small town and there were no secrets here.
Within a few days, everyone knew that Corrie vanderHeuvel was getting married. No wedding date was set and there was little information about the groom, but Tanta Corrie promised everyone that all would become clear in time.
Her mother and Tanta Corrie had always been close but the prospect of a wedding made them both radiant with happiness. Wedding invitations were being handmade by the children, at Tanta Corrie’s request, but with the actual date left off for now. The wedding supper was meticulously planned by the other women from the church. Tanta Corrie seemed to be grateful. She and her mother were looking for the perfect wedding dress, the one that was both modest and beautiful, the one that was right for her age and yet spoke of her love for her husband. They finally found it, although it had to be taken out a bit at the bust and hips. Tanta Corrie was fifty not twenty five, as she liked to say.
And all through the process, her mother pestered Tanta Corrie with questions.
Melanie could see Tanta Corrie getting more and more upset but her mother didn’t seem to notice. Finally, on a Saturday afternoon, two weeks after the announcement, her Tanta Corrie had enough. In the middle of the street, she yelled at her mother and made such a ruckus that shopkeepers came to their doors and people stopped in the street to stare. Melanie was clutching her mother’s hand and she began to cry. Tanta Corrie stopped in mid-sentence and looked at her and then around at the people staring at them. Tears flooded her eyes.
“I’m so sorry” she said and turned and ran down the street.
Later that night, Melanie saw her mother go up the stairs after supper with a tray of food for Tanta Corrie. She heard her knock and then knock again. After a few minutes and some urgent whispering, the door was finally opened. They talked all night. They were still talking when Melanie put herself to bed. She woke up a few hours later to hear her mother wailing in Tanta Corrie’s room and then it was quiet again. Melanie trembled under her blankets and stared at the ceiling for a long time. Then it was morning and everyone was happy again.
Tanta Corrie and her mother were laughing and making plans in the kitchen when she got up. They had made a huge breakfast for everyone and the room was full of the hustle and bustle of farm life.
“Corrie tells me that the wedding will be sometime in the next six months,” her mother announced to the family. “We don’t know the exact date yet, but we have lots of work to do, so let’s get on with it.” She clapped her hands twice and the children began to clear the table while the men went outside to do their chores.
The time seemed to fly by. What with school starting and the wedding to look forward to, life was full and busy. Melanie loved it all. Tanta Corrie seemed to be changing too. She was even kinder and more patient than ever before. But no, that wasn’t it exactly. She sang in the choir at church with even more passion than before, though her voice had not improved. She was always smiling and talking to strangers, though there were few of those in Greenville. People noticed the change. They said that being in love agreed with her. But that wasn’t it either.
It was Jesus.
She was always talking about him. She was spending more time with Pastor John and even spoke a few times at the front of the church on a Sunday evening. She was always apologizing and asking for forgiveness for things people didn’t even know she had done. Nothing big mind you, but lots of them. She worked hard at keeping her promises and she was always giving money to Mrs. Engelhard. She and her two daughters and a baby boy lived in a trailer on the edge of Greenville. Melanie knew Eliza who went to the same school. There was only one school in Greenville. She was two years ahead of her. They always seemed to need help.
Melanie overheard a conversation on the back porch one autumn evening when the window in her bedroom was open and she was looking out at the stars, dreaming of weddings and such.
“Corrie, what are you doing?” her father was saying. His name was Peter.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s none of my business, but you seem to be giving an awful lot of money away these days. More than normal,”
“How do you know that?”
“Mr. Jenkins down at the bank had a word with me today. He’s worried about you.”
“I know what I’m doing.”
Silence thickened between them.
“People are talking, Corrie.”
“I imagine they are.”
“You keep inviting those trailer court people to our church and some of them are starting to come.”
Melanie had been pleased when Eliza and her family had started coming to church. Eliza didn’t have a father or, at least, they didn’t know where he was. Tanta Corrie had asked her especially to make Eliza feel welcome. She didn’t realize that her Dad wasn’t happy about it.
“Is that a problem?” Tanta Corrie said.
Her question was greeted with silence.
It was quiet for almost two whole minutes. Melanie was counting it out in her head, holding her breath nearly the whole time. Finally, her Dad spoke again.
“Corrie,” he said. “What’s going on? Something’s not right.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know what I mean. That’s the problem. It doesn’t make sense, all this mystery. Who is this guy that you’re going to marry and why is the wedding date such a secret? Who does things this way?”
“Just leave it alone, dear,” Melanie heard her mother say. “Corrie and I talked about it and it all makes perfect sense to me. Just let Corrie do things her own way, ok?”
Again there was silence.
“Ok, have it your way.” Melanie heard the scrap of a chair as her father got to his feet.
“Please be happy for me, Peter,” Corrie said. “Thank you for being concerned but, really, I have never felt more alive and more satisfied with my life than I do now. Peter, you have to understand, my husband is a very special man and I love him with all my heart. He will provide for me and protect me, so I can afford to be generous to others. That’s the kind of woman he likes.” Corrie stopped for a moment, then continued.
“I want to be the best I can be for him. When I see myself in his eyes, I see the true Corrie, a wife he can be proud of. That’s who I truly am. That’s who I want to become.”
No one said a word.
“Aren’t you good enough for him the way you are?”
“Of course,” she said. “Love accepts but it also expects. It motivates you to do more, to be more. Not for his sake but for my own.”
“It all sounds very strange to me.”
“Peter,” she said. “I am willing to give everything, and to do anything, so long as it is good and right, to be the kind of person he sees when he looks at me.”
There, she was doing it again.
She was talking in code, saying one thing and meaning another. And the others didn’t know, or maybe her mother did. That was another mystery to be solved. For now her Dad had nothing more to say and Melanie heard his footsteps echo on the porch as he went back into the house, the screen door banging shut behind him.
In early November, Tanta Corrie fell down. She had been walking along with her hands full of groceries and the next moment she was sprawled half off the sidewalk onto the street while a can of peas rolled precariously into the traffic. Melanie was there, frozen, but others had quickly come to Tanta Corrie’s aid, helping her up and gathering her groceries.
But she couldn’t stand and, finally, one of the shopkeepers brought out a chair and someone called Doc Parker. Tanta Corrie sat there, leaning forward, her head bent down while someone held her hand and talked to her until the doctor arrived.
Doctor Parker had his own ambulance, although it looked more like a hearse. He had painted it white and put the Red Cross on it and a flashing light on the roof but it was still a hearse. The long, low station wagon with the tailgate that came down was usually black. In fact, there was one just like it at the cemetery outside of town.
Doctor Parker got a number from someone and spoke quickly on the phone. Then he turned, squatted down, and said, “Hello Melanie. Do you remember me?”
“Yes, Doctor Parker.”
“I just talked with your Mother on the phone, and, well, your Aunt Corrie needs to go to the hospital in Oakville right away.”
Melanie said nothing.
He stood up and spoke to some of the men that had gathered around. “Help me get her into the bed in the back of the ambulance, will you?” He went to the back of the ambulance and let down the tailgate. “Be gentle.”
Then he turned to Melanie again.
“Would you like to ride up front with me?”
“What’s wrong with her?”
“I don’t know,” Doctor Parker said. “Let’s get her to the hospital so they can find out.”
The silent, intense driving, the flurry of activity at the hospital when they arrived, and the worried look on her mother’s face filled Melanie’s head with a roaring sound. Something was very, very wrong. She wanted to scream at everyone to stop, that her Tanta Corrie had to get ready. She was getting married. It was coming any day. But she couldn’t say anything and that night her dear Tanta Corrie was gone, the sweet scent of lavender had disappeared forever.
Melanie couldn’t even cry.
Two days later, on Sunday morning, she found herself with her family in her pew at church. Everyone was there. They wanted to say goodbye to Tanta Corrie. It was a strange service. Mostly she looked at her feet to avoid the eyes that seemed to be everywhere. But now she noticed a hand made card in the Bible rack in front of her.
She reached out slowly and took it, opening it to find that it was one of Tanta Corrie´s wedding invitations. She looked up at the front of the church, the one place she was trying to avoid, for that was where Tanta Corrie lay. The casket was not open, at her Aunt’s request, her Mom had said before they came to church. But there was a large picture of her with a radiant smile, in her wedding dress, obviously taken recently when she was still in love. You can always tell.
A sob escaped from somewhere deep within her but she did not cry. Some other voice, a stranger’s voice, was yelling in her head. It’s not fair. She was getting married. She was going to have a wedding. It’s not fair. Can’t anybody hear me?
There were lots of flowers of course, just like any funeral service, or wedding for that matter, and there were candles in the front of the church, too. Three of them, in fact. It was strange. Her Mom had told her about the candles. In a wedding the two candles on the outside were lit and stood for the man and the woman. But when they were married, the bride and groom would each take their own candle and light the third candle in the middle and then blow out their own. It was a beautiful way to show that two people could become one. Melanie loved weddings.
Or, at least, she used to.
Finally, after some soft piano playing and a few introductory remarks, Pastor John opened his Bible and read the Parable of the Wedding Feast. There was going to be a big wedding in Heaven and people were supposed to get ready for it. Or, at least, something like that. Melanie wasn’t really paying attention. Then Pastor John stopped, came down from the pulpit and walked up to the casket and laid a hand on it.
“Many of you knew Corrie vanderHeuvel well,” he said quietly, “and all of us knew that she was planning to get married.”
The room was absolutely quiet, even the children were listening.
“Today was her wedding day,” Pastor John announced.
There was a gasp and a low, sad murmuring that ran through the crowd. This was news to Melanie and when she looked at her father she could see the confused look on his face, too. Only her mother didn’t look surprised, although her eyes were full of tears.
“Many of you think that this is a tragedy. A tragedy that turned a wedding day into a funeral service but, in fact, Corrie had planned exactly the opposite.” Everyone was listening intently again.
“She wanted to turn a funeral service into a wedding.” Pastor John stopped to gauge the response. “If the casket were open, you would see her with her wedding dress on.”
He took a deep breath and Melanie could see his hand tremble a bit as he lightly touched the top of the casket again.
“Almost six months ago, Corrie was diagnosed with terminal cancer in her ovaries. The doctors told her that she had about six months to live. She realized immediately that God was giving her a chance to put her life in order.”
“Corrie has been a member of this church and a good Christian woman all her life but she knew that her walk with God had grown cold. She felt that her whole approach to her relationship with God was passive and distant. She realized that she was mad at God for never allowing her to marry and she could not forgive herself for letting a young man go that she had loved once. He ended up marrying someone else. Corrie asked me to share all of this with you.”
“You see, she finally let go of her anger and regret and gave herself wholly to God. And God responded. He reminded her, from the Scriptures, that he would be her spiritual husband and that he would provide for her and protect her. She was to love him in return with all of her heart. God also reminded her that there would be a wedding soon, a wedding in heaven. She knew that the whole church, not just her, was the bride of Christ and that the Wedding Feast of the Lamb would happen when Jesus Christ returns to rapture his church and bring an end to history as we know it. But she also knew that, for her, the wedding day would also be the day of her death. And she wanted to be ready. Just like any bride who is planning a wedding, there are a lot of preparations to make. The preparations God is looking for, of course, are the preparations of the heart, becoming the kind of person that is worthy of the bridegroom, to become the kind of person that he sees when he looks at us.”
There it was again, the code language. Melanie squirmed in her seat.
“So, you saw a Corrie in love with Jesus these past few months,” Pastor John continued. “She was preparing for her Wedding Day. She wanted to use the last few months of her life as a living parable of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. She asked me to record a short video clip so that she could talk to you in person, so to speak, for a few moments.”
The pastor signaled to someone in the back of the church and a large screen TV on a stand with a video player was wheeled out. It was all prepared and as the lights were dimmed, the tape was pushed in and Tanta Corrie’s face came on the screen. Melanie could already hear quiet sobs throughout the sanctuary, but they quieted down again so that everyone could hear Tanta Corrie’s final words.
“Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for being here today on my wedding day.” She paused. “This is not a cheap trick and I did not intend to deceive anyone. If any of you are offended, please forgive me. I only wanted to leave you a living parable of a truth so profound that it has changed my life.” Again a pause.
“I truly believe that God is looking for and creating a certain type of person, a certain type of bride, if you will, for a very special bridegroom.” She smiled.
“Of course, this is a beautiful metaphor but it’s also more than a metaphor. It is true. The problem is that the Bible also describes us as unfaithful prostitutes, unworthy of his love.” She stopped and then smiled a bit. “We have a hard time with that kind of language, don’t we? It seems too harsh but if you search your hearts, you and I both know that we are unworthy of God’s love and especially of his sacrifice on the cross for our sins.” Corrie looked down for a moment.
“It was when I truly faced my sins and my anger towards God and my regrets that I began to see how unworthy I was of God’s love. And then God amazed me by loving me anyways. That is the great discovery of grace. The problem is you have to experience it for yourself in order to really know it. You have to feel it. You have to see the depth of your sin to understand the heights of his love for you. I wanted to help you to experience what I had experienced and so I came up with this plan. With the help of my sister, Susan….”
Melanie turned to look at her mother.
“…..and Pastor John, we tried to make this funeral service into a wedding celebration. But it can’t happen without your help. You are the ones who will make this celebration work, for it truly is a celebration if you can see it from heaven’s eyes.” Melanie could see nods of agreement around the sanctuary.
“But it must be heartfelt. If you agree with me and you are able to see yourself and your sin for what it is and God’s love and grace toward us for what it is, then it has to change you. You will fall in love with God all over again. He can change your cold and distant hearts into tender hearts full of love for Him and for each other.”
Now the general weeping and crying threatened to drown out Tanta Corrie’s words. Melanie strained forward to listen.
“Now is the time to prepare for your wedding day. Don’t wait. Don’t be like the foolish virgins that Jesus talked about. Remember Dan Thorpe. He died of a heart attack just a little while ago, in October. I was at his funeral with most of you. I wanted to cry out the warning right there and then but it wasn’t my time. Now is my opportunity. Please, if you can hear me, if you can see what I saw, if you can believe in your Wedding Day, than prepare yourself because you don’t know the day or the hour.” The entire congregation seemed to be holding its collective breath.
“Let me say one last word to the men. I know this sounds like it’s more for the women than for you but don’t be fooled, don’t give the Devil a foothold to deceive you. This truth is for you as well. Repent and surrender to the love of God in Christ Jesus and you, too, will be saved. God is a jealous God. There is no middle ground. There is passive and there is active. There is only room at the wedding feast for those who want to be there with all their heart, and show it by actively seeking God all the time. You must be prepared, you can’t afford to wait until the last minute and that means you must become the sort of person that is worthy of the bridegroom and do so, now.” Tanta Corrie took a deep breath.
“Now, a word to the children, and especially to you, my sweet Melanie.” Melanie was crying profusely now, angrily wiping her tears away so she could see her Tanta Corrie, her sobs finally disciplined into quietness so she would not miss a word.
“Melanie, you may not understand all of this right now but I want you to know, and all of the other children as well, that I love you with all my heart. I want to see you here in heaven with me when it comes time for you to be part of the great Wedding Feast of the Lamb. I can already tell that you’re going to be a great writer. Write this story, Melanie, and believe it and experience it deeply for it is the Story of Life, itself. I give you this video to keep safe and to copy and to distribute as you see fit. It is a trust but, more importantly, it is a calling. Melanie, prepare every day for your spiritual wedding. Hopefully, you will have two weddings. One on earth to a godly man and one in heaven to the God made man, the Savior and Lord of all men and women.”
“Thank you all and may God bless you and turn His face toward each one of you and give you peace.”
Then, before anyone could react, Corrie had one more comment to make. “Oh, before I forget, I owe Hiram, at the grocery store, twenty seven dollars and fifty cents plus interest. Susan would you make sure he gets that? Take it out of my account. I should’ve just given him the money twenty five years ago. I’m sure he’s forgotten all about it.” Melanie turned to look at her mother who was smiling and nodding through her tears.
“I love you, Sis,” Corrie said and then blew her sister a kiss.
Melanie watched her mother blow a kiss back.
She knew Mr. Longbottom down at the general store but why was it so important to pay him back a long forgotten grocery bill? Was he the man Tanta Corrie once loved? What happened to them?
The rest of the service was a blur and it was days before Melanie could even get her bearings. Over the weeks that followed, Pastor John was a busy man, busier than he had ever been before. People were talking about a revival but Melanie wasn’t even sure what that meant.
More of that code language again.
One thing was for sure, she was going to figure this out and get to the bottom of it all. Somehow she knew that it would be the greatest adventure of her life.
The Desert Warrior
P.S. Let’s talk to God…..
Lord, I want to prepare for my wedding day, too. I want to be at that feast and celebrate in the joy of heaven. I know that this life is a time of preparation. Help me to prepare my heart and my obedience by showing others who I belong to, who I love above all others, who I will follow with all my heart. In your name I pray. Amen.