By Pst. John Musyimi
Some thoughtful Christians have asked, ‘If an engaged Christian couple love each other, what is the point of doing a wedding? Furthermore, when exactly does a marriage begin? Is it not enough to just dispense with the cultural requirements (a can of worms for a different discussion) and start living together? Why bother with a wedding?’ –
It is interesting to note that this line of questioning is mostly asked by men. They have several reasons to ask this, but for the most part, it is a response to economic concerns. Weddings costs money and some feel it is wrong to devote any resources on one. It is likely that much of the economic pressure we feel here might be more of our own making than anything else. Whilst this would make for an interesting discussion in and of itself, let us for now be content to say that a wedding doesn’t have to be expensive.
My goal in writing this article is to explore some theological reasons why Christian couples should seek to begin married life with a wedding ceremony. I am not concerned with the size, scope or outlook of the ceremony. I am only anxious to make the case that there be one. I wish to show that a Christian wedding ceremony has significance that goes beyond any other legitimate (and illegitimate) way of starting married life. The following are 5 lines of reasoning:
- God’s covenants came with vivid ceremonies: When one considers the various covenants that were made in scripture by God with His people (e.g with Abraham in Genesis 15, or with Israel in Exodus 24 etc) there was invariably some sort of ceremony to mark the beginning of that covenant relationship. The same was true of the various covenant renewals in Israel’s history. The ceremonies were undoubtedly used by God to impress on the mind of the human parties involved the utter seriousness of the matter. They provided great visual representations of the nature of the covenant relationship and even the consequences that would follow covenant breaking. The Bible tells us that marriage is a covenant relationship (Malachi 2.14) and it is fitting, therefore, that it also be inaugurated with a ceremony. A wedding is a serious and vivid covenant making ceremony between a man and a woman in the sight of God and a gathered congregation. If God marks the start of His covenant relationships with ceremony, perhaps we as His imitators (Eph 5.1) would do well to follow suit.
2. The absence of weddings was a picture of God’s judgement: This may come as a surprise to you but it was one of the ways God brought judgment on His people for their sin. Consider Jeremiah 7:34 ‘And I will silence in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, for the land shall become a waste.’ (c.f. Rev 18.23)- God, to communicate His displeasure at His people’s idolatry, promised to drain them of all gladness. For his people, one of the chief times of great gladness was captured in weddings. God says that as judgement on them the voice of the bridegroom and the bride would cease from their land. In effect He says- ‘It will be so severe and desolate, there will be no weddings and their accompanying joys and blessings.’
Wouldn’t you rather perpetuate a picture of gladness and God’s favor, rather than one of God’s displeasure and judgment?
3. Jesus attended and blessed a wedding: Jesus’ first miracle was performed at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. (see John 2.1-12) Have you ever considered the significance of this miracle? He chose to manifest His glory (v.11) at a wedding. The way He did it is also worth noting. It wasn’t a healing or the casting out of a devil; rather, it was a miraculous provision of great wine for the wedding. The running out of wine at such a feat would have marked an end to the joyous festivities and been a great shame on the couple- One could not imagine a greater crisis. Jesus blessed this occasion by producing the finest wine for them. This was quite the seal of approval. This tells us something of the attitude of Jesus towards weddings- He approves, attends and blesses God honoring weddings.
4. A wedding is a chance for Jesus’ love to be seen and shared: I owe this point to my colleague Pst Lemaiyan. (We must make use of the thoughts of other men’s brains, right?) As Christians, it is to be our business to make use of every opportunity for the gospel. A wedding is one such opportunity. We know that marriage mirrors Christ and the Church. (Eph 5.32) What a glorious thing it is then for a marriage from the very outset to seek to display the gospel! A wedding gathers friends and family, some of whom may not have a relationship with Christ. It thus provides context for them to see and hear the gospel. Fellow Christians are also edified to see and (hopefully) hear a fresh proclamation of God’s unfailing love for His people as displayed by the wedded couple.
5. Jesus will not sneak His bride into glory: Not only do the Scriptures employ the marriage metaphor; they also use the wedding metaphor. God refers to Himself not only as a Husband, but also as a Bridegroom. Eg in Isaiah 62.5 ‘For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.’ This, to me, is a very striking point. God speaks of Himself as a groom and His people as a bride that He betrothed to Himself. In the New Testament, Jesus severally pictured himself as the bridegroom in a wedding banquet with the Church as His bride (Matt 5.9-15, Matt 25.1 ff.) And not only so, the last book in the Bible tells us that Redemptive History ends with something like a wedding feast. (Rev 19.7) Jesus will not sneak His bride into glory; He will hold a wedding banquet with her and present her to himself a glorious bride for all heaven and earth to see. The New Jerusalem (a picture of God’s people) comes down out of heaven like a bride adorned for her husband (Rev 21.2). Does the very language not cry out, wedding! This tells us that the concept of a wedding ceremony (and feast) is one that God heartily approves of and even applies to Himself.
Obviously, these 5 arguments don’t address every issue and there are other legitimate options to start life as married couple. (Eg, The Civil Authorities) However, my plea is that, as Christians, there is more to consider. Hopefully this inclines us to view weddings more favourably.