Why do we hold weddings in church? Is it because God acted as the first match maker in the garden of Eden? Or that sex requires a blessing to be sanctified?  Is it that two people are making a covenant and God is a witness?  Or, in order to provide stability to the marriage, we hold the wedding in the presence of the Church community who support the couple?

While there may be some truth in each of the above reasons, none of them fully recognize the purpose of holding a church service and what is fundamentally happening during a wedding.

The purpose of every church service is worship.  Sunday morning obviously is; we even call it our Worship Service.  Funerals are also worship services.  We don’t celebrate the deceased, but rather the way God touched us through his/her life. Similarly, a wedding is a celebration of God’s love as it manifests itself between the bride and groom.  There is more to having the ceremony in the church though, than simply observing divine love.  To understand the significance more fully it is helpful to examine a typical wedding service.

The Bible is quiet concerning conjoining ceremonies.  That there is a wedding feast can be found throughout the Bible, but the only other aspect mentioned is that of a friend attending Sampson in Judges.  Much of the rest of the Christian wedding ceremony is derived from Jewish practice.  The early rabbis saw a parallel between a husband’s relationship to his wife and that of God to Israel, so the wedding ceremony mirrors the events of Sinai, when that relationship formally began.  This can be seen in the way the groom waits for the bride to come to him, the way God waited for the Israelites to traverse the desert to Sinai.

While the link between the marital and Sinaitic covenant provides some of the impetus for why weddings are held in church, the wedding ceremony is essentially about the uniting of the couple.  The oft quoted “a man will leave his mother and father and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” of Genesis 2 states the concept succinctly. The union of male and female is the original case of attracted opposites. The wedding ceremony celebrates the union of unalike parties, namely the bride and groom, and as such it provides a metaphor for the union of God and humankind.

The image runs through the Bible.  From the erotic Song of Songs to the adultery-laden Hosea; from Jesus’s sermons filled with brides, grooms and wedding banquets (not to mention where his ministry started) to the image of the Church as the bride of Christ in Revelation; the wedding metaphor plays a significant role throughout.  The very mystery of the incarnation contains this union.  That common mortal man and divine immortal God can be united in the person of Jesus is the ultimate union of dissimilar entities.

There is another significant union of opposites made possible by the relationship between God and humankind culminated in the coming of Jesus – that of perfect God with imperfect sinners.  How joyous it is that we can be joined with God who is so unlike us.  How that strengthens and enables us to live fuller lives.

The coming together with the radically other is what the Church is about.  How appropriate to celebrate the familiar union of bride and groom, remembering that it is an icon of our relationship to the divine.

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