Marrying in the Lord: A seasoned pastor's advice on planning and celebrating a wedding, page 2 of 2
In Sri Lanka, the couple is asked to join hands. The pastor thenpours warm water over all four of their clasped-together hands,collecting it in a basin he holds just beneath their hands. He asks,“Can anyone separate the water in this basin, sorting out which watertouched the hands of the groom and which water touched the hands of thebride?” He then states emphatically, “So also you are no longer two butone, and from this day forward, all that passes through your handsbelongs neither to the one, nor to the other. It is, all of it, yourstogether.” He then amplifies this with reference to possessions,children, experiences, struggles, and joys.
In some settings, a pastor wearing a robe will take off his stole andwrap it around the couple’s clasped hands as he pronounces them husbandand wife to symbolize that they are being joined to one another in thename of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The presentation of a cord of three strands (see Eccles. 4:12) isused in some ceremonies (see the banner on p. 4). Sometimes the couplewill choose to actually weave the strands together during the ceremony,to symbolize two truths: (1) It is only as they bind themselves toChrist, the third strand, that they become bonded to one another; and(2) this is a lifelong process. A wedding is a milestone, but amarriage is a pilgrimage.
Pastors do well to keep in mind, as one veteran preacher pointed out,that people listen to messages at funerals far more attentively than atweddings. There are too many distractions, and it is difficult for abride and groom to listen well standing in front of a crowd. So keep itshort, fresh, and focused on just one point (See sample on p.11.).Sprinkle the message with illustrations and perceptive observationsabout the realities of marriage, such as
“Marriage is a lot like flies on a patio door. Those on the outside aretrying to get in; those on the inside are trying to get out.” —Howard Hendricks
“The fact that married couples can live together day after day is a miracle the Vatican has overlooked.” —Bill Cosby
“Love is blind, and marriage is a real eye-opener.” —Anonymous
One of the most creative messages I’ve ever seen given involved a Dutchcustom of giving the couple a special candle and then reciting the poem“Een Stille Getuige” (“A Silent Witness,” left).
The wedding service reaches its conclusion when the couple arepresented to the gathered congregation. Just prior to that momentousevent, it is fitting to pronounce, in word or in song, a blessing uponthem. Here are some suggestions (see p. 27 for more suggestions):
- “Shine On Us,” ( 1995, O’Ryan Music, Inc.; available on a CDentitled My Utmost for His Highest. A moving vocal piece sung by threevoices praying that the light, grace, and love of the Lord shine uponthe couple.
- “May the Lord, Mighty God” (see above)
- The Aaronic benediction (Numbers 6:24-26)
- Hebrews 13: 20-21
Jesus Is There
Jesus is able to make his presence known and felt in any circumstance,even the most poorly planned or simple wedding. Last summer I marriedtwo non-Christians in a brief ceremony involving only ten people,standing on a rocky outcropping looking over Bellingham Bay. I waswearing a suitcoat and tie . . . and tennis shoes (we had just sailedacross the bay). I insisted on using biblical vows. They willinglycomplied. It was a cool, overcast, gray day. Then, at the very momentthey recited their vows, sunshine broke through—brilliant sunshine. Weall suddenly felt its warmth penetrating our chilled bodies. Andsuddenly even the bride and groom realized that this was more than meresunshine—it was a sign from a God they did not know (yet) that they,and their new home, mattered very much to him. I told them so, and theyagreed. And then both groom and bride broke into tears of wonder at thefact that they, of all people, had received such a timely gift.
I still pray for them. But I also marvel at the timely, gentle giftthey received at their wedding from an unknown and unseen Lord, whowas, that day, very present. It was a wedding I’ll never forget.
Policy Regarding Photography During Wedding Ceremonies
1. Photographs of the bride’s walk down the aisle may be taken, butonly from the foyer, not from any point within the sanctuary.
2. Photographs of any moment during the ceremony may only be taken from the balcony, without a flash.
3. At no time will a photographer be permitted to take any flashphotographs of any kind from within the sanctuary during any part ofthe ceremony itself.
Scripture Suggestions for Ceremony Themes
For those who are marrying for the first time or who have lost a partner through death
Psalm 127:1; 1 John 4:11; 1 John 4:19; Song of Songs 8:6-7; Psalm 100:5; Ecclesiastes 4: 12; John 17: 22
For those who have been divorced
Psalm 90:15; Joel 2:25a; Song of Songs 2:11-12a; Psalm 37:23-24; Proverbs 24:16a
Policy Regarding Music Used at Weddings Officiated by Our Pastors
The weddings that occur at [name of church] and/or are officiated byour pastors are meant to be distinctly Christian in character. For thisreason we respectfully ask each couple to secure the approval of theofficiating pastor for the music they have chosen for their weddingceremony. Though we are open to a wide range of musical styles, ourconcern is that the character of the music, especially the lyrics,glorify God, honor the truth of Scripture, and thus lend both joy anddignity to this holy event.
A Cooking Tripod
While on sabbatical in Basel I heard Professor Mercy Amba Oduyoyedescribe a marriage ceremony of the Bakossi tribe involving the cookingtripod. The cooking fire is the center of the household in Africa;therefore the community becomes involved in setting it up. The tripodis made of three stones. The first stone, placed by the bride andgroom, symbolizes their unity, mutuality, and equal participation. Thesecond stone, placed by the bride and the oldest woman of the groom’sfamily, shows the bride’s integration into the new family and themutual respect among the in-laws. The third stone is placed by thebride and someone from her own family; it signifies the bridging of twofamilies.
I have used this ritual in two weddings to illustrate the bride andgroom working together and their place within the extended family. Sofar I have done all the rock-carrying myself, but having the couple andtheir families participate is also a possibility.
A Silent Witness
On the day of your marriage, let a candle burn, a precious symbol thatall through the years ahead will remind you of what you have promisedtoday.
I saw it.
My little flame was right there when you placed your hands in one another’s hands
and gave your heart away for good.
I am more than an ordinary candle.
I am a silent witness in the home your love has created,
and I will live with you there.
As long as the sun keeps on shining,
I do not need to be lit.
But if you never know the joy of holding a child in your lap,
or if another beautiful star comes up on the horizon,
then light me.
Light me when it grows dark,
when a storm threatens,
when the first argument breaks out,
when something suffocates your spirit
and you find yourself suffering in silence,
then put a match to me and light me.
Light me when you want to take the first step
but you don’t know how,
when you want to talk it out
but you can’t find any words to say,
when you long to embrace but your arms won’t budge,
then light me.
My little flame is a clear sign in your home.
It speaks a special language that everyone can understand. Listen:
I am your marriage candle, the light of your life together.
I cherish you.
Let me blaze whenever it is needed
and as long as it is needed
until together, cheek to cheek,
you can snuff out my little flame.
Then I say thankfully, “Until the next time!”
—Phil Bosman, In de zevende hemel, translated from the Dutch by Ken Koeman and Gerrit Veening. Used by permission.
A Wedding Meditation
Scripture: Ruth 1:16-17
This meditation, though longer than most meditations should be, maywell serve busy pastors who are looking for ideas and insights on afrequently chosen wedding text.
[Groom] and [bride], you have chosen as the theme not only for yourwedding but even more importantly as the motto for your marriage, apassage of Scripture that sets a truly high standard for yourrelationship. It is a passage that bristles with such determination tohold on to a relationship that it sounds downright feisty.
These words were spoken by one of the most resolute, adamant, andpersistent people in all of Scripture, a young woman named Ruth. But tosimply say that she spoke them is to miss something. The truth is thatthey just erupted out of her, they exploded from her lips. If you couldhave seen her face when she spoke these words, you would have seensteely eyes, set lips, and one firm jaw.
It makes you wonder, Why such a holy feistiness? The reason is this:Noami was trying to convince Ruth that she would be far better servedby going back home to her Moabite family than by coming along withNaomi as she returns to Bethlehem. There are three compelling reasonsfor Ruth to quit her relationship with Naomi.
1. Naomi herself presents the first reason.
“Look,” says Naomi, in one of the most plausible and persuasivespeeches in all of Scripture, “what sense is there in coming with me? Idon’t have a thing to give you. The thing you need the most, anotherhusband, I can’t give you.
“Look at me. I may never marry again. And even if I do, I may not havechildren again. And even if I do, they may not be sons. And even ifthey are, it’ll be a long wait before they would be old enough for youto marry one of them. So really, I have nothing to give you.”
I’d like to pause here to point out that this is one of the mainreasons marriages fail: people conclude that the relationship hasnothing to give them; it’s not doing them one bit of good. Instead ofenriching their lives, marriage is draining them dry. And they wantout. That’s exactly what Naomi is saying to Ruth: There is nothing inthis relationship for you. There’s no way you will be fulfilledremaining with me. Save yourself. Leave. Go back home. Start overagain. Get out while the getting’s good.
Does this sound familiar? People say the same thing today, “As long asmy marriage fulfills my life, I’ll stay in. But when it doesn’t, I’mout.” This infection can get into anybody who’s married. It can getinto you.
2. Naomi’s character presents the second reason.
Naomi was not a pleasant, positive person to be around at this point inher life. She was so negative, in fact, that she even insisted onchanging her name. She told people, “Don’t call me Naomi; call me Mara,because the Almighty God has made my life very bitter.” Picture her:she never smiles, she never laughs. She’s a sourpuss, and her face hasall the warmth of the North Pole. All Ruth needed to do was take onelook at her and say, “I don’t need this in my life. This isn’t going tobe any fun, putting up with this grumbling, negative, bitter old woman.It’s not going to be easy living with her.”
Which is, I might say, another one of the major reasons whyrelationships end, including marriages: husband and a wife simply don’tlike each other anymore. They barely tolerate each other. There is noenjoyment in it anymore. In fact, they mostly just put up with eachother. And that too is a threat to any marriage, including yours. Doyou know that there might actually be moments, maybe even days, maybe,God forbid, even weeks when you just plain don’t like each other? Ithappens.
3. Naomi’s other daughter-in-law demonstrates the third reason Ruth might have wanted out.
Orpah, Naomi’s other daughter-in-law, has seen the light. She’s leftNaomi and gone off in search of her dreams. Ruth watched her walk awaydown the road, and that must have pulled at her too. Perhaps shethought, “Maybe Orpah’s right. Maybe the time has come to bail out.Maybe that is the way to go.” And then, to make matters worse, it’syour own partner, it’s Naomi who is begging you to go that way.
It is simply amazing that Ruth didn’t walk away. And it’s even moreamazing to hear those determined words explode from her lips. You haveto ask, Where did all that come from?
Those words came from seeing something that Orpah never saw and thateven Naomi at this point could not see. Ruth’s eyes had been opened byGod, and she saw that God had led her into Naomi’s life. She’d learnedthat this God was the only true God (perhaps from her history lessons)and knew that only by staying close to Naomi would she stay close tothis one true God, from whom all blessings flow. For her, staying inthis relationship was not primarily a matter of personal happiness; itwas a matter of hanging on to God and to God’s blessing. At this pointshe probably only saw it dimly and from afar. But she saw it.
And so she spoke, and her voice must have sounded almost frosty as she said these words of pure steel:
Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go Iwill go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my peopleand your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will beburied. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anythingbut death separates you and me.
Feisty! That’s holy feistiness.
Now you are saying that is how it is going to be with you. The backdoor is closed and locked, and you are into this relationship forbetter or for worse, in sickness or in health, in poverty or in wealth;you are simply never going to walk out on one another.
How can you be so sure? You are only human. But you can be sure. Theonly way you can be sure is Ruth’s way: by looking back and seeing God,seeing how God led you into one another’s lives and believing with allyour hearts today that you are here, not because of your choice butbecause of his calling. God has joined you together; there can be noputting asunder. That was the providence of God at work, and that iswhy you are here today.
Ruth was looking back. She saw that God’s blessing was to beexperienced in the very relationship God had created and that she wasnow being so powerfully tempted to abandon. That, and that alone, isthe foundation for the kind of commitment Ruth made to Naomi and youhave made today. Those words of Ruth ended up drawing her into thelineage of Christ. Repeating those same words today promises to repeatthe blessing of Ruth in your marriage, drawing the life of Christ intoyou, your home, and your lineage.