John and Mary have set the date for their marriage, about six months away. This half year seemed to be a sensible interval, giving them ample time to make the necessary arrangements for the big event. They never realized that so much was involved in preparing for one short evening. This preparation involves trips to the photographer, to the florist, to the printer, and on and on. Dresses have to be obtained, suits ordered, colors picked out, and again, on and on, ad Infinitum. The bridal party has to be planned, the ceremony arranged, the reception worked out, invitations chosen and sent… Will they ever get so much done in such a short time? This is all strange to John, who had never given it a thought that it took weeks of planning, shopping, and what-not, just to get married. Secretly he asks himself. “Why not just go to the minister?” For Mary this is different. I once asked a very thorough young lady at her rehearsal. “Did you start planning this already when you were twelve years old?” For an answer she gave me a big, knowing smile.
There have been some very definite improvements in our weddings and in our receptions over the years. It appears to me that getting married is taken much more seriously by our young people today than it was forty or fifty years ago. Then, weddings took place at home. All the large pieces of furniture were moved out of the living room and out of the “family room”. This family room, by the way, was a sort of luxury in most homes. It had furniture, but it was not heated in the winter. In fact, it was rarely used, except for weddings and funerals, and, very occasionally, for family visitation. Chairs were brought into these rooms, placed as closely together as possible to accommodate all the invited guests. Usually an arch of some sort was arranged between the two rooms, where the ceremony would take place. If there was a house organ, someone would play an appropriate piece of music while the minister and the couple marched in. The Marriage Form was read, the couple answered their “Yes” and their “I do”, followed by a prayer and the completion of the Form, and the ceremony was over. There was something warm and intimate about this kind of ceremony, but the trouble was that when the ceremony was finished also the solemnity of the occasion evaporated instantly. Soon, amid a great hubbub, congratulations were extended, a lunch was served, the married couple were made the butt of a series of jokes, not always in good taste, and often a hilarious program followed. Skits and humorous dialogues were interspersed with serious poems and well-meant congratulations. Gradually, the older people decided that it was time to leave, and the evening was given over to the young people, who played games, sometimes far into the morning. I have also attended weddings in other communities that began at eleven o’clock in the morning. Lunch and supper were served to the guests that were able to spend the afternoon with the bridal couple and their families. In the evening, the young people came to have their jokes and games. In the meantime, boys and girls, and some older people of the neighborhood as well, came to chivaree, that is, to announce their arrival with shouts, beating on pots and pans, and gun shots fired onto the air. They came frequently in groups, each demanding to see the bride, to share some of the food and to receive a hand-out. These ”fun” makers did not always leave without doing some damage to the property, to the horses and buggies and later to the automobiles parked around the home. There has been, however, marked improvement in our weddings throughout the years. The ceremony is far more solemn and impressive, the reception far more sober, as befits the awesomeness of the occasion.
There are other improvements that can be mentioned. Our choice of music at the ceremony has improved. Songs like “O Promise Me” and “Because” and the like have been replaced by songs with more spiritual content. The long familiar “Here Comes the Bride” has had its day, for which I am not sorry. Songs with real spiritual content and depth make the ceremony richer, and fit far better with the occasion. The use of renditions of the chorale-style psalms with their dignity and deep joy is on the increase, as well as the participation of the audience with an appropriate Psalter number. These both add beauty, historical perspective and spiritual depth to an occasion which should be as rich and as solemn as possible, particularly since our weddings are most often now held in the church auditorium. (The Dutch psalms make lovely processionals and dignified recessionals as well as song music, and there is a greater variety there than most people realize.)
Shall I tell you what I think would make an ideal wedding, both in harmony with Scripture and the Church Order, and in harmony with the significance and symbolism of marriage? A proper, Christian wedding should be a church wedding. By that I do not mean a wedding in church, but very really a church wedding. The entire congregation should be present, there should be a regular worship service with a sermon, and the wedding integrated into the service.
Attempts have been made in the past to have church services during the week, but these efforts have failed. The consistory was present, and the entire congregation was called to worship, but only a few members of the congregation made their appearance. If the congregation is not present, the mere presence of the consistory does not make it a church wedding. Therefore the only possibility of having a church wedding is to have the ceremony in the Sunday evening service.
Already I hear a storm of protest. First of all, would it be possible to have such a large number in the wedding party on a Sunday evening? How about the dresses of the bride and of her attendants after sitting through a service and then appearing before the whole congregation? These and other details would have to be worked out by the couple, but should hardly present insurmountable problems. I am sure that many fathers and mothers would give a sigh of relief if much of the superfluous and expensive pomp and fanfare were eliminated from our ceremony. Many others would consider it a healthy sign if the emphasis would fall upon the vows that are spoken rather than on all these distracting outward displays. I know and I agree whole-heartedly that this event is the big thing in the life of the bridal couple, especially of the bride. The bride has dreamed for years of this great occasion, and years later she likes to reminisce with keen delight, even telling her children what that great event meant to her. But if we learn to lay the emphasis where it belongs, our weddings will become more meaningful than they are now.
The second objection bound to come up pertains to the reception. Having a wedding ceremony on Sunday evening would require that a large reception be held later, possibly on Monday or Tuesday evening. That also creates problems. Young people are accustomed to getting married and leaving on their honeymoon during the latter part of the week. Instead of the whole affair being finished in one night, it is spread over two nights. Instead of relatives and friends coming once, the more interested ones must come twice. This involves a bit more work, a bit more planning. Yet, as a general rule, a person gets married only once in a lifetime. This is a big, if not the biggest event in his life. The occasion is of utmost importance, both for the couples and the families involved. Those who wish to give their blessing upon the marriage will be willing to put forth a bit more effort to make this wedding the very best, as it should be.
A third objection follows out of the second. The bridal couple almost always leave on their trip immediately after the wedding. If the ceremony is held on Sunday evening, they would be compelled to stay until after the reception. But that is not all bad either. We are such creatures of habit and custom that no one wants to break with it. I hope that sometime there will arise a couple who have the courage to be the first ones to attempt getting married on Sunday, thus breaking the ice for those who see the good of it.
A bit of serious thought will help us to realize that the advantages of a Sabbath wedding far outweigh the disadvantages. Whatever we can do to emphasize the importance of this great occasion must certainly be advantageous. A church service, with the entire congregation participating in song and in prayer, a fitting sermon that is not cut down as much as possible, would add to the spiritual benefit derived from the wedding. You and I are baptized in the church, we grow up in the church, we make our public confession of faith in the church, later we have our children baptized in the church, and we encourage our children to put the church in the center of their lives. Why then should our wedding be relegated to a mere weekly occasion, without the congregation present? Think about it.
That brings us back to the planning of the wedding. These plans must include some sober moments, some serious reflection. Amid all the turmoil of all the other preparations, you must realize the importance of the step you are taking. May I suggest, that when you order your napkins and other printed matter, that you avoid the custom of the world to mention the bride first? This may seem like a very small item at the moment, yet there is more involved than meets the eye. We know, as God’s covenant people, that marriage is a symbol of the union of Christ and His Church. You, as the Bridegroom, are a picture of Christ. Would you mention Christ last? You, as the Bride, are a picture of Christ’s Church, which He has purchased with His own blood. You want to assume your God-given place already at your wedding. Did you ever notice that in the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22, the cry does not arise, “Behold the Bride cometh!’’, but, “Behold the Bridegroom cometh!’’? Gradually but surely, we have fallen into the pattern of the world to put the bride on the foreground and virtually to classify the bridegroom as among the also present.
I spoke of moments of sober reflection. You are leaving father and mother to enter into an entirely new relationship, to establish a new home and family, to walk life’s pathway together until death parts you. Yours will be an exclusive relationship, actually excluding all others. It will be the most intimate relationship conceivable, more intimate than the relationship between parents and child. Your life will be a symbol of Christ, Who joins His Church to Him by the mystical bond of faith, uniting us to Him in most intimate fellowship. We become flesh of His flesh, bone of His bone. We are one with Him as intimately as the head and the body are one, living one life of love and fellowship. How wonderful that our lives may be a picture of that eternal union, and that our marriages may symbolize the eternal wedding feast of the Lamb! We not only see it, we live it. “For this cause shall a man leave father and mother and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”
You can best prepare yourselves by taking time to read the Marriage Form. Read it alone; read and discuss it together. Know what it teaches us, so that your wedding will be more meaningful. Take note of the fact that you are hand-picked for each other by no less than God. In God’s eternal plan, you were God’s choice for each other, even as God brought you together by His providence. Notice the responsibilities that you as husband take upon yourself, and the duties that you as wife take upon yourself. Make special note of the vows you are about to take, so that when the time comes you will be deeply aware of the promises you are making to each other before God and those present. All the excitement of the occasion must not blur from your minds the seriousness of your vows. Therefore, it is a must, a must for every sincere young couple, to prepare themselves individually and together with honest talks with God in prayer, open talks with both sets of parents and sincere talks with one another. You owe it not only to yourselves, but to each other that you are fully aware of the fact that your marriage is a holy institution of God for your happiness and blessedness, but above all, to the glory of God’s Name.