On a lovely summer day 36 years ago, my husband and I were married in an outdoor service at our church camp. Standing beside him and facing our family and friends, I was overcome with a joyful surprise. “All of these people have come just because of us!” I thought, as tears came to my eyes. I was awed and delighted by the sight of these people and the love they extended towards us. The support that I first glimpsed at my wedding has continued to be one of the firm pillars upholding our marriage.
Marriage is hard work! The two people in the marriage do not live in isolation. The marriage itself cannot be healthy without the interaction and care that comes from circles of support—circles that include family members, friends, neighbours, co-workers, helpers like doctors and counsellors, and for Christians, other Christians.
As I write, a wave of memories rolls out as questions, calling forth these ties that bind. Who befriended and encouraged us as a couple? Who reminded us to keep our covenantal promises? Who walked with us through infertility and miscarriages? Who helped us raise our son? Who companioned us when we left our Ontario home and resettled in the prairies? Who comforted and cried with us when our parents died? Who used humour and understanding to soften our sharp edges and deepen our capacity to forgive? It is the people of our community, some of whom were with us on our wedding day and are still with us now. Others have come into our community along the way.
This vital support present at a wedding, or its absence for those who cohabit, is one of the things that troubles me about the increasing trend of cohabitation. A wedding marks a transition in an individual’s or couple’s life, moving from singleness to married. Typically a wedding is a communal event, when the people who love and care for the couple gather to celebrate, to witness vows and to pledge ongoing support for the couple and their marriage.
When all goes well, the newly married couple leaves the marriage ceremony with a treasure of gifts beyond the fancy wrapped packages. The gifts may be intangible or difficult to see, such as prayer, understanding, and comradely loyalty in the muddy, joyful trenches of married life. The newlyweds and their commitments are held in the hopeful, loving hearts of the community members who send them off with a cheer, “We’re rooting for you!” This encouragement is delayed or muted when a couple joins their lives together without a wedding ceremony.
The community members also receive gifts at a wedding. First of all, there’s a party, and who doesn’t love a party? Then there’s the pageantry and beauty and drama—carefully selected clothing; artful flower arrangements or the simple splendor of nature; big or little glitches that punctuate the ceremony; sacred stillness as vows are pledged; the kiss. All of these elements pull us into bonds of connection and knit us together even more closely.
Finally (and I’m sure my list is not complete), community people are invited, even compelled, to examine their own commitments. As at baptism, we remember the promises we have made and recommit ourselves to faithfulness. Like baptism, a Christian wedding is a gift from God and the church to the participants. A gift that nurtures the focal person as well as the gathered community. May we treasure these gifts, and continue to practice them with diligence and joy, especially when society lures us away from them.
Melissa Miller (email@example.com) lives in Winnipeg where she works as a pastor and counsellor. Her family ties include that of daughter, sister, wife, mother and friend.