I don't go to a lot of weddings. Sure, I officiate at a whole whack of 'em, but I try to avoid the receptions etc. First off, most of the weddings I do are for people I don't really know—being a United Church minister means that you end up doing a lot of weddings for people who don't have much of a church affiliation. "If you don't know what (denomination) you are, you're United."
Secondly, I have to preach the next day. The act of leading worship and preaching are exhausting so I don't really like to do anything on Saturday evenings. It's true,—even though I am a Ottawa RedBlacks season tickets holder—I try to avoid Saturday evening home games as much as possible.
And … I don't have a lot of friends—no … that's not a cry for help—it's just that I've never been a "friend" sort of person. I hang out with Karen, with my kids, with my sister and her family, those types of people. You get the picture.
But … I do have a lot of cousins. And this summer—actually on the Sunday of Labour Day—my cousin Nick married his sweetheart Emma. Yes, you saw that right: Sunday!!! And since I was still on holidays, I could kick back and have fun with the famn damily.
There were Ontario Patersons by the score. A bevy of Quebec Patersons. A whole herd of Oshkosh, Wisconsin Patersons, and then the cool stylings of California Patersons. We got to hang out, catch up, compare grey hairs—Nick is one of the younger cousins—and he is 36!
Anyway, I also got a gift: I was not asked to officiate!!! Yay. My understanding is that Emma is not religious—her father is Irish and her mother is English—so religion is not something important in her life. So, Nick and Emma had an officiant "do the job."
I am not going to be critical of the officiant because she really did an outstanding ceremony. It was simple but elegant and had everything that you need to make aunties and Uncle Malcolm (my dad) cry.
But something seemed odd. It was lovely, people were smiling, laughing, crying. But something was off. I turned to my dad's cousin Jan, who is a very faithful Lutheran, and she looked at me the same way because she noticed something too. I then looked at my cousin Tim's wife Joan, who is a very American Christian, and she too was looking about as if something was lost and missing.
And then it came to me … God.
Amidst the celebration,the well wishes, the vows and kiss, those words, spoken by me hundreds of times were not there: "Though I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal … Love is patient, love is kind … and now faith, hope and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love." *(1 Corinthians 13)
There were all sorts of things right with this wedding ceremony. It truly was lovely. But as a Christian, I felt I had lost something very precious to me. Even the traditional vows ("to have and to hold, from this day forward") were scrubbed clean of God. Instead of "In the presence of God, I … take you ..." it was "In the presence of friends and family."
Part of me wants to shout, "That's cultural appropriation! If you want to do weddings, secular world, make up your own ceremonies."
Another part of me is content because it was better than crossing one's fingers, wink wink, when it comes to the God stuff.
And another part of me is sad, because I know, deep in my heart that, not only was something missing from the ceremony, that "thing" (G-O-D) will also be missing from the marriage. There is a passage from Ecclesiastes (4) which states that
9 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? 12 And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.
A "Three-fold cord is not quickly broken." If the bride and groom are two strands, or maybe it's the couple on the one hand and their family and community on the other. But what is the third if not God? It seems to me, from my marriage to Karen (we soon will reach our 28th year), or my parents' marriage, or the many marriages that I have been a part of, God was and is a necessary part of it.
I wish Nick and Emma well. They love each other, and are loved by me and so many others. I just know that during that lovely, secular wedding, I was praying for the God (whose name is Love) to be present at all times with them—in sickness, and in health; for richer for poorer, till death do them part.