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The Sweet and the Bitter: A wedding ritual

Wedding rituals I have witnessed firsthand include the lighting of a unity candle, the rose ceremony, communion, and foot washing. But ever since I saw the movie Fiddler on the Roof years ago, I have been particularly fascinated by the Jewish wedding practice of drinking wine and breaking the glass under the couple’s feet. Seven wedding blessings (Sheva Brachot; www.jewishaz.com/jewishnews/970131/tradsb.html) spoken over the cup of wine celebrate the themes of creation and joy. The shattered glass reminds everyone that even on the happiest occasions, Jews remember the destruction of the temple, the suffering of the Jewish people, and the fragility of life. The glass fragments represent a wish: “May this marriage last as long as it takes to put all the pieces of the glass together.”

A variation on this bittersweet symbol is a Far Eastern ritual involving two glasses, one filled with sweet wine, the other with bitter wine. Both bride and groom drink from both cups, symbolizing that they will share the bitter and the sweet in life.

When my daughter and future son-in-law asked me to come up with something unique for their wedding, I suggested this meaningful symbol to them. Lacking a liturgy, I wrote this wine ceremony and inserted it between the declaration of marriage and the signing of the marriage license (in Canada, it is customary for the marriage license to be signed as part of the wedding ceremony). It proved to be a memorable moment in their wedding. More recently, a colleague and friend also used this ceremony in his own wedding.

The Sheva Brachot was not said over the wine and the goblets were not broken dramatically at these two weddings. But the bittersweet reality of life, marriage, and family was openly acknowledged before God in a way that moved the hearts of every wedding guest.

Wine Ceremony

[Ahead of time, place two goblets of wine on a small table. One contains the sweetest wine you can find, the other the driest. At an appropriate time in the service, the pastor invites the couple to stand behind this table facing the people and says the following:]

In Scripture, wine has rich symbolic meaning. In the Old Testament, wine, along with flour for baking and oil for cooking, represents the good, blessed life under God’s loving care. In the New Testament, wine represents Christ’s miracle at Cana as well as the new life that needs to be poured into new Christian lifestyles. The taste of this wine is sweet and fit for a “joyful heart” (Eccl. 9:7).

Wine also represents the dark side of life. The Scriptures have many warnings about the misuse of wine. The psalmist calls the circumstances that bring us down and humble us “a cup in the hand of the Lord full of foaming wine mixed with spices”

(Ps. 75:8). In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was asked to drink from that cup. The taste of this wine is bitter and fit for “those who are in anguish” (Prov. 31:6).

With eyes wide open to all that life brings, from wonderful experiences that leave you breathless to terrible experiences that leave you short of breath, and everything in between, I invite both of you to drink from the sweet and the bitter wines before you today.

[Both drink from the same chalice before setting it down and drinking from the next. The order doesn’t matter. What matters is that everyone can see them drink, reflect, and pass the cup to each other.]

With this symbol, you have declared before the Lord and all who are gathered here that you will remain faithful to each other in sickness and in health, for better or worse, whether your hearts are glad or sad. We praise God for your commitment and promises to each other.

[The service continues.]