Weddings can be a real mixed bag. For most people, it is typically a joyous occasion and an evening of celebration. For the wedding party, it can be a ball of stress because no one wants to do or say something that might ruin their friend’s biggest day. You even see the juxtaposition in young boys and little girls. Many boys see it only as a boring service with kissing and girly stuff followed by cake and party favors. And yet, for most little girls, it is all the things they love – a love story, dancing, a beautiful dress, and flowers everywhere. Often at weddings, that mixed bag of emotions exists in the same person.
The bride is excited about marrying her sweetheart but nervous about the photographer getting all of the shots she wants. The groom anticipates kissing and dancing with his bride, but he is stressing about making all of their honeymoon reservations. The parents of the bride are excited their baby girl found a great guy, but they are praying there is enough food and cake for everyone. I’ll say this, ministers at weddings are not immune to these mixed emotions.
Officiating a wedding is highly stressful, and at the same time, the best seat in the house. You don’t want your faux pas to be what everyone remembers about the ceremony, and yet you hope that something you say will be remembered long after the cake is cut. I can still remember the illustration the minister used at our own wedding almost 16 years ago, and, at the same time, I also haven’t forgotten another pastor who called the bride by the wrong name. Add to that the hours you have spent in premarital counseling with this couple, the prayers you have prayed for their enduring faithfulness, and the years you have known them and their family. My pulse is rising just writing about the stress of it all.
And yet, no one has a better view of the bride and groom on their wedding day. I get to see them sitting on the couch working through information and questions preparing for their married life ahead, I get to see their lips quivering as they recite their vows, and I get to watch as the bride tries to work that ring on the grooms swelled ring finger. It is the pronouncement of the minister that assures the witnesses that this couple is now united as husband and wife. My favorite part of the wedding service (apart from it being over and with it the stress of it all) is when the groom sees his bride coming down the aisle with her dad. Most of them lose it right there, and the bigger they are and the more confident you are that this guy won’t cry in public, the more the tears flow. Most of the time.
But why so much stress and emotion on a wedding day? Is it simply that so many people are there watching this man and this woman commit themselves to each other? Yes, in some way it is. What a massive undertaking. Recall the words that are often spoken as a promise of the bride and groom to each other – “until death do us part.” And yet, the weight of the wedding is even heavier than that.
The stress of all the preparation, decisions, and details all pale in comparison to the eternal significance of a wedding. Whoa, you are thinking, eternity, I didn’t know I was signing up for forever when I got married. If this life is preparing us for eternity to come, then marriage is part of that greater goal. The goal of our lives is not to be married (and have children, retire well, and die in our sleep), but is to be prepared as a bride for our Savior. Marriage is so good, the wedding day is wonderful, and children are great, but they are not to be the fulfillment of life but all pointing us to our eternal relationship with God. We even use the same language when we speak of a marriage covenant and our covenant relationship with God.
In salvation, we are united to Jesus (Romans 6:5), and in marriage, we are united as husband and wife to become one flesh (Genesis 2:24).
Paul recognizes this eternal significance of marriage when he writes in Ephesians 5:25-27 “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” The church is presented to Christ by Christ in glory. What a vision of the life in Christ that is to come and the reality that now is in Christ.
The husband is to love his wife modeled after the way Christ loves us. The goal of marriage is not happiness, success, great vacations, or satisfying sex but to be holy and without blemish before Christ in splendor. Marriage then is a covenant within a covenant, with this covenant between a man and his wife picturing and preparing them for the greater covenant of their relationship with Jesus. The covenant relationship with Jesus is already in place for the Christian couple and it is yet to be seen in all its fullness and glory.
That should add some gravitas to our thoughts about weddings and what the couple who is getting married is entering and what the witnesses there are actively participating. The couple who is dating needs to see this goal of marriage as their goal in getting to know each other. The parents of teenagers young children needs to be teaching this to their kids so they are not cheapening relationships by making them be about experiences, warm feelings, or selfishness. This in no way diminishes the role of Christians who are not married, and a similar weight is also seen in the role of parenting. Maybe those are separates posts in the future.
May the Lord find us faithful.