Weddings can be such glorious occasions. So often, in rain hail or shine, I see brides and grooms utterly transported with love and joy. This is their day. And they are right at the centre of a celebration of the fact that they are in love.
If you look at the photos, you see colour and beauty and joy and celebration. And it is such a privilege to be part of making that day just as beautiful and meaningful as it can be. So it is a really fun way of spending a day and earning a living! Yay!!
But alongside the fun and joy, marriage is a pretty serious undertaking! So what is the Ceremony of Marriage about?
It is of course an opportunity for all the guests to get dressed up and have a party! And it is a moment for them to witness and honour the couple’s love for one another. But couples that I marry have chosen to have a ceremony, rather than simply a party and pop to the registrar. So why?
For me the essence of a ceremony is the recognition of the littleness of us, and the bigness of vows. One person says to another “I’m sticking with you now… whatever befalls us.” And in the moment of saying that, they step into an unknown. They have no real idea what the future holds for them. And they promise that – whatever happens, and being human all sorts of stuff almost certainly will happen – they will be together. The promises are not that they will always behave well. They are vows to return – they promise always to return to a place of love and forgiveness.
I believe that the ceremony of marriage is an outward sign of inward grace. We ask for grace from…. somewhere beyond our little human selves. From a bigger wider connection with all of creation. From “God” if that is the word that captures that huge big Everything!
And, like all ceremonies, the ceremony is not only about the couple. It is about every member of the congregation who chooses to be present. To be fully present at a ceremony, the paradox is that members of the congregation are invited to be there for the couple, but also to put themselves right at the heart of the ceremony. We all make vows, to ourselves and to others. And sometimes we need some help in keeping faith with those vows. The ceremony of Marriage is the moment to ask for help from someone or something bigger than ourselves in keeping our promises. As the poet Rumi says
“Come Come whoever you are, even though you’ve broken your vows a thousand times. Come! Come again.”
Preparation for Marriage
Mostly, what couples and I spend our time thinking about is deciding on what readings, what symbolism, what ceremony will make their ceremony meaningful. But in that search for the right words, the right ‘feel’, the perfect atmosphere, we also spend some time exploring the nature of the relationship between the couple. That can be deep, beautiful meaningful work.
Love makes the world go round, after all. But true love isn’t always a picnic in the park.