KC McGinnis is a writer, photographer and blogger based in Iowa City, Iowa. He’s also written about marrying someone with an eating disorder and the reasons you should suck it up and buy that expensive engagement ring. You can read more at his blog, What Matters to God.
In the beginning of our engagement, my fiancée Kelsey and I considered having a small, private wedding by the ocean, far away from our Iowa home. With the potential for 250 guests or more, we just didn’t want to deal with the stress of programming a wedding that would need to be accessible for all of the guests we would invite. Just so you know where we’re coming from, here’s a sampling of our guest list so far. It includes:
- Kelsey’s large, mostly evangelical family
- My large, mostly agnostic/Protestant/Catholic/New Age family
- One couple married 55 years
- One couple only married only a few weeks
- At least a dozen people who speak English as their second language (or third)
- One same-sex couple
- Several Campus Crusade for Christ staff
- At least three Iraqi Shia Muslims
In the end, Kelsey and I decided not to scrap the guest list (which evens out around 300). And while our wedding may look uniquely diverse, in reality all weddings bring in an array of people from every faith, culture and lifestyle. Part of what won me over to the big wedding was the opportunity we had to minister to such a variety of people through a ceremony that articulates the hope and purpose our marriage has, through the gospel.
Often the burden of presenting this message, however, falls to the officiant, who gives the sermon and marries the couple. Yet in our wedding, and certainly many others, a number of guests will tune out as soon as a pastor starts preaching. I can’t put my finger on it; perhaps it’s an instinct conditioned by all those childhood years spent squirming in uncomfortable pews during tedious sermons. For some reason, however, even in very exciting, articulate messages, words like “sanctification,” “holy” and “Ephesians” sort of bounce off the ears of many non-churchgoers, including many of our family and friends.
If the verbal message of creation, fall, redemption and consummation tends to fall on deaf ears, then perhaps it needs to be reenforced in other, more accessible ways. Enter the ceremony elements.
Most weddings include ceremonial elements: music, vows, processionals, some kind of space. These elements can be infused with meaning, creatively reenacting the plot elements of the gospel story in a new way. In other words, the wedding ceremony itself, aside from the sermon, can act as another medium for presenting the gospel. The ceremony shares the gospel; though it does so more like Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son, less like The Four Spiritual Laws.
It all starts with creation. In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, it was beautiful, and good. In the spirit of our ancestors who spent generations building the European cathedrals, we wanted to use space to give our guests at least a glimpse of the beauty of God’s creation as seen in Genesis 1-2. We chose a beautiful historic building in downtown Des Moines, Iowa. Other beautiful spaces could have been an old church, a recital hall, even a well-decorated yard. But we insisted: our wedding must be beautiful. This is the beginning of the gospel.
The fall is one aspect of the gospel story that doesn’t require as much ceremonial support; because it’s implicit. The fact that the world is fallen, and that includes the world of relationships, is the aspect of the gospel that needs to least conveyance to our guests. Yet the typical wedding does allude to it pretty well, especially in the moments just before the wedding processional. While his family and friends file in, the groom eagerly waits to be united with his bride. Things aren’t quite right until he is. The already/not yet tension continues to develop, just as it does today. The beautiful thing is, everyone at the wedding knows how it ends.
Weddings are full of redemptive elements, but Kelsey and I are hoping to bring back an increasingly-forgotten one: communion. There is something extremely significant about making the Lord’s Supper the first act we do after reciting our vows, to signify that we – now as both two and one flesh – have been redeemed by the body and blood of Christ, who redeems us both individually and corporately. Washing each others’ feet also gets across this redemption-in-Christ theme. Lighting a unity candle is a nice gesture, but I wouldn’t take it over either of these two.
Finally, when the doors are flung open and the bride and groom are finally brought together, we see echoes of the long-awaited joining-together of heaven and earth; the consummation. The two who were separate now become one, as they were meant to be. This powerful symbol is yet another extension of the gospel message, delivered through the medium of wedding ceremony. The beautiful thing is, the guests at the wedding all respond to this message of creation, fall, redemption and consummation the same way Jesus says we will in Revelation: with a feast!