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Lutheran Aardvark

Confessional Lutheran theology, hagiography, philosophy, music, culture, sports, education, and whatever else is on the fevered mind of Orycteropus Afer

24 September 2005
  I Love Marriage … It's Weddings I Can't Stand

Consider with me the marriage rite:

The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for the mutual companionship, help, and support that each person ought to receive from the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Marriage was also ordained so that man and woman may find delight in one another and thus avoid sexual immorality. Therefore all persons who marry shall live within their vows and so keep themselves undefiled as members of the body of Christ. Finally, God established marriage for the procreation of children to be brought up in the fear and instruction of the Lord and to offer Him their praise. So has God established the holy estate that Name and Name wish to enter. They desire our prayers as they begin their marriage in the Lord's name and with His blessing.

What's not to love in all of this? In marriage, God gives us a dear and true friend, help for the hard tasks, someone to laugh and cry with us, to support us, to love us. He gives a man and a woman each other's bodies and allows and encourages the joy and passion of sexual union. He often blesses the marriage with children. He gives a place where faith can be nurtured and practiced through faithful church participation, family devotions, and generally by living out vocation as husband and wife.

What do people do in response? Many come to the Church, asking to be married in it, even though they otherwise show no interest in God or His people. They want songs with no religious content or others that are filled with a vague (and often unbiblical) spirituality. Brides (or their mothers) often (usually?) treat what should be a solemn yet joyful religious service celebrating "the union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind" into Queen for a Day, with the bedecked and bejeweled bride as star.

The men (including, often, the groom) are sort of along for the ride. They show up early for pictures and seem to be little more than pawns in the hands of a photographer or a "wedding coordinator." They end up with way too much time on their hands and all too often fill it by emptying beer and liquor into their bellies as they gather in clumps on the church parking lot.

Should a pastor suggest singing a hymn or two during the ceremony, he's often met with blank stares or flat denials. He regularly has to remind guests that a religious ceremony is not the place for moving about with flash cameras. He often needs to remind "gentlemen" to remove hats and prays that the bride or other "ladies" don't show up on wedding day exhibiting more skin than one sees on a summer day at the beach.

The "Unity Candle," a recent ecclesiastical innovation, is my personal nomination for latter-day "Abomination of Desolation." The flow of the service is interrupted; if no suitable place exists, they want to set it in the center of the altar where the presence or the memory of the Lord's body and blood should always take precedence. Not only is is liturgically inappropriate, it also drips wax and threatens to tip and teeter to the floor.

And don't get me started about people who want to change the paraments because the colors on the altar clash with the colors chosen by the bride. I've seen the "best" man pretend to have lost the rings as the party stands before God's altar, raising guffaws rather than amens. At one church (not one I pastored, thank God!) a mother objected to the "thing" sitting in the middle of the center aisle. The pastor firmly told her that the "thing" was the baptismal font and that — even if it weren't one with the concrete floor — one did not hide away the visible symbol of this rich Means of Grace.

Since the comment line is always open, I invite others to share wedding "horror" stories. However, as I said above, I also love marriage, and would enjoy hearing the stories of God-pleasing ceremonies and of years of Godly life as husband and wife. I promise that I'll share ours, too.

And now I must hasten off to shower and dress for today's ceremony.
While serving as a pastor in Germany, I found it a relief that every marriage was done by a state official. The church wedding was optional. Part of the liturgy was the greeting of the couple (who led everyone into church) at the door with an admonition of why they were coming into the church. I gave the couples a choice of lessons and hymns--no country western bar songs. The only surprizes were outside the church. At the close of the service, I led the couple outside. Sometimes a club or organization to which the groom (occasionally the bride) belonged would Spalier stehen, i.e. form an arch, to honor the couple. Memorable arches were raised fishing rods by the anglers' club, fire axes by the volunteer fire department, machine pistols by the customs officers, and most memorable: two rows of snarly dogs by the German shepherd club.
According to my pastor who knows a few things about the liturgy and its history informed me that the Unity Candle originated (at least in popularity) in the much publicized wedding of Luke and Laura on General Hospital.
Great post - I'm glad somebody came out and said it. Five years ago, we witnessed the train wreck of a ceremony - my BIL's wedding. Drunken wedding party; gushing emotional United Meth. pastor; self-centered bride. We cringed as the pastor said, "So and So, may you relax in the arms of this man, as you've never relaxed before .. etc." So embarassing - more of a sex therapy session than a religious ceremony. Sadly, the marriage has already ended.

I vote that whenever the unity candle debacle is performed, the organist must play the Luke and Laura theme - "Rise" by Herb Alpert.
Let me add my "amen" to this post.

Weddings are nothing but trouble. I've had one wedding where the couple wanted Vespers and wanted hymns. Most want a "quick 'n' dirty" 15 minute ceremony so they can get the party started.

Fortunately, the "unity" candle is not too big a deal these days. But "Here Comes the Bride" is "de rigeur" here. Most think it to be a churchly piece of music! When I explain it isn't, the stares get blank, the heads get shook, and the family INSISTS on it as if the wedding isn't "valid" without it.

I have a wedding Saturday. I pray it doesn't turn into a "schauspiel", but I fear it might. We pastors ought gain control back but it's a long, hard battle.
Listen up, fellas and foxes, marriage is not a sacrament and thus ceremony doesn't have a whole lotta usefulness beyond acting as a milestone in the civil realm in case of future litigations. Is someone who has committed themselves to another apart from a ceremony any less guilty of adultery before God than a person who has vowed publicly before some peon in a makeshift dress? Come on, let's sober up for a moment--but only a moment--and consider doing away with ceremonies in our churches for anyone other than a member.

Simul iustus et peccator, Kobra
Hmm. I wouldn't trade the wedding ceremony held in my church for a civil ceremony that is devoid of meaning. Our wedding was a "routine" worship service, complete with communion, except that it was held on a Saturday afternoon and had the exchange of vows in the middle of it. As to the unity candle, I'd never heard of such a thing until my (future) wife told me about it. It sounded odd, but I went along with it because it was important to her. The church's guidelines for weddings ensured that proper reverence would be maintained (no flash photography, no videographers moving about, no changing the paraments or other redecorating the church) and specifically stated that the ceremony was a worship service that happens to have wedding vows in the middle.

I wanted a church wedding *in the church we attend* because it was important to me to begin our marriage on an appropriate foundation ("Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain"). I wanted to dedicate my particular marriage to the same God who instituted marriage in the first place. It's up to my wife and I to keep God in our marriage, of course, but it was important to have a good start. In short, our wedding wasn't a spectacle or a bachanal.

Theophorus said "marriage is not a sacrament." Perhaps it should be, if only to (re)create the sense of solmenity and gravity that ought to underlie two people coming together in an institution created and blessed by God. Indeed, we should celebrate marriage with the same reverence with which we celebrate Holy Communion and with the same joy with which we practice Holy Baptism.
Funny blog. Just curious, but what's your take on gay marriage? You seem to assume marriage is a "sacred" union (event) between a man and a woman. I agree that marriage (the ceremony) has become far more about glamor than religion and the unions have become rather contractual in nature rather than strictly about finding a "life partner," and more about short term gratification with divorce always being an option. Because the institution of marriage is nothing more than a joke with insurance benefits, why not allow people to marry for love, regardless of sex?

Thanks, and keep up the good work.
My husband and I have been blessed with a much deeper understanding of marriage than most couples who are married in mainline churches in the US these days. I was a member of an ELCA church at the time, and we were married there before I transferred membership to my husband's PCA church (since we don't have an organ, and no Lutheran girl can get married without an organ!). We had strictly sacred music, mostly baroque, didn't waste money on a unity candle, and sang "The Church's One Foundation". But I was still queen of the reception!
Good grief, yes. I can count on one hand how many weddings I have enjoyed presiding over as a pastor. I have had requests that made me downright squeemish. This led to the congregation assembling a formal policy regarding weddings, and many of the problems stopped because I could point to it as the authority with anything else being the exception.

It is sad today that most couples want to rush through what is truly important, wanting to spend as little time as is possible on things like pre-marital counseling and the liturgy, but as I always remind them, they are planning for the rest of their lives so they should should have the foresight to focus less on what only lasts four hours. If they refuse to allow me to counsel them, there is no wedding permitted at the church. I think if more pastors stuck to their guns, word would get around after the smoke cleared and a re-emphasis on the holy estate of marriage might result. It was a hard won victory for me, but the benefits to couple is immense.
I was going to give a smart answer and claim that as a pastor I had witnessed no "God-pleasing ceremonies," but at the last wedding in church the young couple asked for Holy Communion, hymns, and was receptive to my pre-marital counseling. Just when I'm about to give up hope.... :-)

Thanks for a great piece.
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