Well I am back from North Carolina (so sad!) and upon my arrival yesterday, Illinois greeted me with a rainy, dreary day. Luckily, my spirits couldn’t be dampened after an amazing week and a half spent with family and friends. I attended two weddings and was honored with two baby showers, and my heart has been full all week. I continually give thanks to God for the ways He has blessed me with great friends and family. It is one of the best aspects of my life here on earth!
As I just mentioned, while I was home I attended two different weddings for long-time friends. Both weddings were a total joy and I had a blast. I am SO incredibly happy for both couples! However, weddings are also a sobering occasion for me. I know that sounds a bit Debbie Downer-ish, but here’s what I mean:
Although our culture treats weddings like a major social event (I mean, how many people are extremely disappointed when they show up to a dry reception?), the Christian faith believes that a wedding is much more. Certain Christian traditions believe marriage is a sacrament–ie. a means of God’s grace in our lives–and most Christians believe it is a sacred moment that depicts the holy union between Christ and his bride, the Church.
For Christians, a wedding ceremony is a very serious occasion in which two people commit to love one another in a way that testifies to God’s unconditional, unending love. However, that is not the only commitment that takes place on a wedding day. Of arguably equal importance is the commitment of their surrounding community to help them persevere in their vows, to live out the marriage covenant faithfully, even when it is difficult.
Evangelicals place a tremendous emphasis on the former commitment. We put couples through pre-marital counseling and inundate them with books to help them navigate the oft-rough waters of marriage. What evangelicals fail to emphasize as strongly is the communal commitment to support the couple, even though that commitment is critical.
No couple really understands what they are agreeing to on their wedding day, and if left to their own devices they will be vulnerable to a whole host of obstacles. That’s why the attendees are there–not only to share in the couple’s joy, but to participate in the marital commitment.
Theologian Stanley Hauerwas is one Christian who puts an adequate emphasis on the community role in a marriage. He argues that most couples marry for lust, not love, and while I personally think that’s a bit of an overstatement, I also get what he’s saying. For many of us, the wedding belongs to the honeymoon period when both the man and woman are young, healthy, childless, and doting. For many, though not all, the dating, engagement, and wedding represent the easiest (though perhaps less deep) phase of the relationship. It is only when a couple starts doing life together and encounters the hardships of marriage that they begin to understand what they have committed to. And it is then that a couple needs support.
It is for this reason that Hauerwas emphasizes the role of the community in helping a couple live into their vows. As the rose-colored glasses come off and a couple gets into the nitty-gritty stuff of marriage, they need a church body that will push them to be godly spouses, and exhort them to fight for their marriage.
That is why I take wedding attendance very seriously. If I stand behind a couple on their wedding day, my presence is a commitment to help them live out their vows. I take this so seriously that, if a marriage begins to falter and I do nothing, I consider that a personal failing on my part. In such an instance, I have not borne up my end of the deal. I have not been the Body of Christ to them, and there is a stain on my hands.
Now, I am not legalistic about this. There are times when you attend a wedding as someone’s date and you don’t know the couple at all, and I don’t think you should be faulted for your subsequent lack of involvement in the couple’s life. But I also wonder if this common circumstance should challenge our thinking about weddings as social events. When a close friend gets married and you don’t have a date, is it appropriate to bring someone who does not know the couple, simply to avoid being dateless? Christian weddings are not, after all, like prom.
There is certainly room for more discussion on this aspect of weddings. In the mean time, as the wedding season goes into full swing this year, think carefully about the weddings you attend and what you commit to with your presence. A wedding is more than a lovely formality, but is instead a holy occasion in which a couple, and their community, embark on a journey together.
CC Photo by Jimmyshag on Flickr