I attended five weddings in the last two months, one of which was my own. Planning a wedding is tricky at the best of times; planning one whilst navigating a pandemic is like riding a tumultuous wave. Once, after rescheduling our ceremony, and overwhelmed by the minutiae of logistics required to merely set up flowers in our church, I wondered how much of this stuff was actually necessary. We could get married without flowers, or refreshments, or even friends. Yet somehow, we felt an unnamed pressure for our wedding celebrations to look and feel a certain way.
I wondered how much of this stuff was actually necessary. We could get married without flowers, or refreshments, or even friends.
Of course, this pressure was mostly the product of good intentions: it issued from a sincere desire to have a beautiful, mishap-free day for the enjoyment of ourselves and our loved ones. It also came from a proper Christian respect for the fact that marriage foreshadows the final wedding between Christ and his church (Rev 19:6-9), which is described as a time of feasting and celebration (Matt 22:1-14).
For these two reasons, we were pleased to invest money, time, and effort into organising a grand day. But, at what financial, emotional, and relational cost? And in a society where wedding ceremonies have been degraded to a commercialised endeavour, measured by their ability to dazzle, how do we avoid obsessing over the physical, temporal aspects of a wedding ceremony whilst still honouring its spiritual significance?
May I offer some preliminary reflections after our own wedding:
- On that day, God unites two people as one (Gen 2:24). It is right to be concerned about making it a memorable day.
- Weddings are public. Family and friends are gathered to witness a real transformation in the relationship between two people. It is right to be concerned about the needs of invited guests and to put effort into making it a pleasurable day.
- A simple wedding does not render it unmemorable or somehow less joyful. The reverse—that expensive weddings do not equal memorable or joyful ones—is also true.
Why are we gathered here today?
As Leonard and I fretted over our wedding day, we were grateful to have caring pastors who reminded us of what lay beyond it. As Christians, a wedding signifies entering into marriage, which is a high calling to reflect the love of Christ towards his church (Eph 5:21-33). In a marriage, both individuals get the privilege: the husband in sacrificial leadership; the wife in humble submission. To reflect this purpose and pattern, as those who are sanctified yet sinful, is a life-long endeavour, and one for which we need God’s constant help.
The absence of eye-grabbing elements may even accentuate the primary function of our wedding ceremony.
A wedding ceremony is the cusp of a couple’s entry into this high calling of marriage. So, we were gathered for two reasons: First, to remember the magnitude of what we are getting into, and, second, to humbly thank God for the opportunity to participate in it, and to seek his help in remaining faithful to it.
As I reflected on our wedding, it seemed to me that the most important element of our ceremony was the marriage vows and their implications, as we, under God, committed our lives to each other. Obviously, this did not render other details insignificant. As mentioned above, a wedding is a public, joyful and significant occasion worth giving thought to.
However, distilling the primary function of a Christian wedding ceremony is helpful in re-ordering one’s priorities. Many aspects—flowers, invitations, colour schemes, food, gifts—can, and indeed should, remain secondary. Clarifying what’s most significant shifts these from must-haves to nice-to-haves. The absence of eye-grabbing elements may even accentuate the primary function of our wedding ceremony. The spiritual and symbolic significance of two sinners committing to reflect God’s covenantal love doesn’t need pomp and grandeur.
The Aftermath of a Wedding
Several of the five weddings I attended had flowers more exotic than others. Some had designer dresses whilst others didn’t. Many brides told me that at the end of the day, they were just grateful to have gotten married. The intricate details of their wedding day had faded into insignificance within a matter of weeks. But the decisions that continued to matter were the choice to marry, the choice of marriage partner, and the implications of the calling they received through being wedded.
As Christians, we have been blessed to be given a vision for marriage that is far more exciting than the next reality-television nuptial. May we train ourselves not to confine our concerns, prayers and priorities to only our one big day, but to prepare ourselves for the high calling that extends beyond it: life-and-death devotion towards a sinner, in the footsteps of a God who similarly committed himself to us. And may we set our hopes, desires and expectations on the true Big Day, where we will be standing before God’s “glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (Jude 24), dressed in garments “made white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:14) as Jesus Christ unites us to him forever.
 Tim and Kathy Keller on Dating, Marriage, Complementarianism and other Small Topics, Matt Smethurst, Tim Keller, Kathy Keller, The Gospel Coalition, 24 October 2019. Some people have noted that Paul does not actually command husbands to “lead” here, but we can infer it from the statement that “… wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”