Monday, September 12, 2005

A Tale of Two Weddings

This past weekend, my wife and I attended the wedding of one of my wife's cousins. It happened to be at the same church that hosted our own wedding just over two years ago (although neither of the officiants at either wedding are the pastor of the church in question). The two services could not have been more different.

The first words out of the officiant's mouth at our cousin's wedding told of how marriage was under attack in our society. He then listed a litany of ways in which our secular culture maintains these attacks upon the institution of marriage. He contrasted this with Jesus' approval of marriage, demonstrated by the working of his first miracle at the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11). The officiant went so far as to point out that Jesus created 180 gallons of wine at this event (I looked up the passage. Jesus filled 6 containers, each of which are said to contain 20-30 gallons. While this makes 180 gallons technically possible, it's unlikely that this was the exact amount. It could have been as low as 120 gallons. Surely it would have been enough to say that Jesus created a fair amount of wine in this miracle, but I digress.).

As he detailed the responsibilities of marriage to the bride and groom, he used heavily a passage from Ephesians chapter 5, especially verses 22-33, detailing the analogy of the husband to the wife as Christ is to the church. This analogy allowed the officiant to make several points. The husband (Christ) is the "prophet, priest, and king" of the household (this being a doctrine about Christ derived from the Westminster Confession of Faith), each item gaining a lengthy extrapolation of the responsibilities involved. Correspondingly, the wife (as the church) is to submit to the husband (as the church does to Christ). It was emphasized again here how rare a "Christian wife" was these days. The words were often very condescending, and were done in a very stiff, unfriendly manner. When the officiant talked about the roles of the couple in regard to any potential children that might come from the marriage, it became especially clear that he had not spoken with the couple at any length, as we already know that the husband (who already has a grown daughter from a previous relationship) has no desire for more children (or perhaps the officiant knew, but chose to ignore that fact).

In short, not only did this service espouse very traditional roles for the husband and the wife in a "Christian" marriage, it did so in an over-the-top fashion that I've actually not seen anywhere else in my experience with multiple traditions of Christianity, including several fairly superfluous references to all the things that our culture does wrong and going out of his way to emphasize the exclusivity of Christ to any who may not be Christians in the audience.

Our wedding service was very different although, ironically, our officiant took his cue from the same chapter of Ephesians. However, he emphasized the verse just prior to the references to Christ and the church. This is the verse that, very specifically, tells husbands and wives to "submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." (Ephesians 5:21) Emphasizing mutual submission puts the verses that follow in an entirely different light, and thus the tone was set for a very different kind of wedding service. The first words out of our officiant's mouth were words of welcome to the community, emphasizing the actions of God in the service, over and above what we mere humans did or said that day.

My own feelings on gender roles are no doubt clear. However, I would also suggest that the wedding service we attended this past weekend was less of a worship service than our own wedding service two years ago in the same church building. There were few prayers, no songs or hymns, no Scripture readings (only a few quotes which the officiant incorporated into his remarks), and not even any sermon to speak of, although the officiant did do a lot of talking about truth and right doctrine. By contrast, my wife and I (with the help of our officiant, who is a good friend) constructed a service that was very intentionally Christian, with appropriate music, Scripture readings, liturgical prayers, and a full homily from the officiant on the importance of mutual submission to one another as the foundation upon which to build a future together. I truly hope and believe that God was honored at our wedding service, and if there were non-Christians in the audience, that they felt welcomed into a sense of who and what God is that went far beyond the scare tactics of the other officiant's exclusivist message.

Perhaps most interesting of all, at the wedding service this past weekend, the lighting of the unity candle was forgotten until after the service was over, and thus was never actually performed as a part of the service. Not all services do include this, of course, but it was indeed intended here. The lighting of the unity candle is a symbol of the unity of the couple out of two distinct individuals (in our service, we kept the original candles lit, because we remain individuals within our unity. Some churches blow the original two candles out to symbolize the two becoming one.). This very powerful symbolism was completely lost amidst the endless words spoken by the stiff officiant.

Or perhaps a different kind of symbolism took its place. In placing so much emphasis on relatively minor matters of theology and doctrine, the officiant missed the more important points of worship and unity that are at the heart of what a wedding ceremony is supposed to be about. My wife and I are thankful that the success of our cousin's marriage will have little to do with the wedding ceremony itself. That is but the event of a day. A marriage is a lifetime.

4 comments:

  1. It's interesting that you write about marriage today (though, I shouldn't be surprise, given your impending anniversary), since Tom discussed marriage (and specifically some of the questions he asks the intended before the wedding) in his sermon today. I was especially struck by your comment about the unity candle, whereby you left your individual candles lit. This meshes nicely with Tom's comments, wherein he emphasized that each person should continue to strive for his and her individual goals and remain unique people, while also working toward common goals and unity as a couple.

    Anyway... I could go off on tangents about these and related topics for awhile, but I mostly just wanted to write and say thank you for the post and for your observations and for giving me something more to think about. And happy anniversary (tomorrow). :)

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  2. Well, if you'll pay attention to the date (and the "two years ago" reference in the text), I didn't write this today, but rather about five years ago. I just happened to find it again today, and thought it worth sharing.

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  3. I am and was very happy that your ceremony and service emphasized your individuality as well as your unity. Congratulations on 7 years together. Have a great day tomorrow. Love to you both.

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  4. Your wedding was truly special--fitting for two very special people! (of course we are totally unbiased :) ) May God continue to bless your marriage.
    Love, Mom & Dad Baker

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