When I was a kid I didn’t like weddings. Why in the world would people want to get all dressed up, go to church, sit still and quiet, and watch the preacher read from a little book while the bride and groom either said “I do” or echoed some words back to him/her. Church was supposed to be exciting, hand clapping, hallelujah shouting, preacher prancing, soul saving, story telling, reach up and touch an angel, say amen and give the Devil a black eye kind of event. Weddings were anything but exciting. Weddings were too formal and too impersonal, all ceremony and no Spirit. I guess they were beautiful by some aesthetic standard but not the one common to boys.
For my own wedding I was on a quest for meaning. Cheryl and I wanted the ceremony to have spiritual and theological significance and so we pushed the envelope for our time. We wrote our own vows, had communion with the wedding party and seriously considered have a congregational song. Perhaps most outrageous was simply the fact that we took charge of the ceremony rather than just go through the established motions. It was our wedding.
As a pastor I have always had a few personal goals for every wedding. First and foremost, the ceremony must be viewed as a worship service and therefore it must pivot around a sound theology of marriage. I tend to view weddings in three categories. “Church weddings” are those that meet the standards of two believers uniting in marriage as a statement of faith in God’s will for their lives. Weddings “at church” are for person’s not necessarily active in the life of the church but who desire their marriage to begin in the context of Christianity. Weddings in other settings may fit into the first category (a church wedding, just not at the church) but are most often nominally Christian (the couple want a pastor to perform the ceremony but without a real sense of commitment to live as believers). If I perform a wedding, regardless of setting, it must be viewed as an act of worship where the word of God is expounded (concerning marriage).
Therefore, a wedding must also be more than a ceremony. The various components should be presented in a meaningful way. There is a specific purpose for the “I do” portion and another purpose for the “repeat after me” section. The first is a declaration of intent (does this couple know to what they are committing themselves, a Christian marriage) that authorizes the minister to proceed and the second is an exchange of vows (the actual commitments they are making to each other).
Weddings should also be personal. No two weddings should be the same. Two unique children of God are entering into a lifetime covenant relationship. God, the minister, and the congregation are witnesses and participants in the creation of something new (a marriage) that is greater than the sum of its parts. As sacred as the ceremony is, the truth is that the ceremony exists to join two people together; the two people do not exist for the ceremony. It is the role of the pastor to make certain the couple understands the commitments they are making and to make the ceremony express their personal understanding of the commitments.
I tell the couple it is their special day and they should design it to express who they are and what their covenant means to them. If they are believers it should express their faith. I have core requirements that must be included, but they can set the tone and add anything they desire as long as it doesn’t violate the Scriptures. I determine the “Do you …I do” section. They can write their own vows if they wish. The style/language can be traditional or contemporary. It should reflect what they want, but mostly what she wants. In our culture, it is her day.
I love weddings. When I officiate, I always feel I have preached an important message from God’s word. I get to be a part of one of the most significant days in the two individual’s lives (not to mention their families) and in that I am joined to them for as long as we three shall live. Perhaps most significantly for me, I get to help create something beautiful and powerful, a marriage. Marriage is the cornerstone of civilization, the promise of a healthy family in which children can be born and grow. Marriage is God’s design for humans to thrive and it is hope in the promise of full redemption for creation. In marriage we find a context ripe for healing and a partnership designed for personal fulfillment. I believe every marriage is a creative act by God and we get to be helpers in heaven’s kitchen.
This afternoon the kitchen was in the backyard of a modest mountain home. It was a glorious day and I am thankful.
September 18, 2010