Christian Weddings Worth Remembering
Making weddings more like worship infuses them with sparkle and meaning that last far beyond memories of who wore what.
From all the weddings you’ve attended or participated in, certain moments stand out, right? Maybe all guests sang as the wedding party entered. Or wedding attendants recited scripture from memory.
Perhaps, after making vows, the couple sang a paraphrase of “The Servant Song” to each other. A pastor wrapped the couple in a prayer shawl and prayed for their lifelong unity. The groom gave a medal of St. Joseph to his new stepson, symbolizing how Joseph accepted Jesus as his son. Weddings guests shared communion.
You remember such moments because they express an essential truth. Making vows is easy on your wedding day, when you feel so in love. But keeping those promises till one of you dies requires help from God and others. That’s why so many Christian weddings take place in a church, with loved ones gathered to witness their promises and to commit to helping them keep those promises.
Imagine what your wedding might do for you—and others—if you frame it as marrying within God’s story and you include everyone present in your joyful, worshipful, marriage celebration.
Marrying within God’s story
Many congregations follow a four-fold pattern in designing worship services, although they don’t all use the same words to describe the pattern. Constance Cherry, who teaches worship and Christian ministries at Indiana Wesleyan University, explains the sequence as, “God seeks us, God speaks, we reply, God empowers for mission.”
“In the case of the wedding, the story line centers on (1) God’s love in calling the couple to holy union, (2) God’s speaking promises of divine faithfulness, (3) the couple’s reply to God’s expression of love through the taking of vows, and then (4) the couple’s being sent into the world to engage in ministries of love and justice for the sake of others,” Cherry writes in The Special Service Worship Architect: Blueprints for Weddings, Funerals, Baptisms, Holy Communion, and Other Occasions.
Christian tradition sees marriage as God’s idea, which is why many wedding pastors say to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28) or leave and cleave (Genesis 2:24). Christian marriage is a covenant contract requiring a vertical agreement between God and the couple and a horizontal agreement between two who vow to become one.
But marriage is about more than just two people. God pictures the marriage covenant as involving a whole community. Think of how Hosea, Malachi and other prophets describe the people of Israel as a faithless wife. Anticipate the Revelation 19 joy of the wedding feast of the Lamb.
Despite the biblical evidence, it’s tempting to shift focus from God’s story to the wedding couple. When you disagree about wedding planning details, consider asking these three questions posed by Catherine Parks and Linda Strode in A Christ-centered Wedding: Rejoicing in the Gospel on Your Big Day: “Will this help us get married and foster a God-pleasing marriage? Will this serve the people attending the wedding? Will this bring glory to God?”
Worshipful wedding elements
These ideas may spark your creativity about how to include those who’ve gathered to witness your vows…and how your wedding can reveal the love of Jesus, who prayed that all his followers would be one, just as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are One.
Music. Wedding soloists often perform beautifully. Although you can certainly hire musicians and vocalists whom others recommend, it might mean even more to choose from among musical relatives, friends and church members who have helped you grow in faith
Also, including congregational singing will enhance the worshipful community aspect. Roy Hopp’s arrangement of “Not for Tongues of Heaven’s Angels” (based on 1 Corinthians 13) works well with a soloist on the verses and the guests on the refrain and final stanza. Most hymnals include a section of marriage songs good for congregational singing. Searching “wedding” on the website Hymnary.org will reveal dozens more songs for weddings.
Worship space visuals. Flowers, candles, banners and art already in the worship space can help make the wedding festive. If you’re getting married in a church with a baptism font, you can renew your baptism vows within the wedding service. Arlo Duba, a retired pastor and worship professor, suggests having the pastor go to the font with the couple. The pastor visibly and audibly pours water into the font and invites the couple to remember their baptisms by dipping a hand in the water and touching either their own or the other person’s forehead.
Confession and assurance of forgiveness. Anyone who has planned a wedding will come to the ceremony already having offended or angered each other or a loved one. When the bride or groom has been divorced, it can be helpful to acknowledge the past and set the couple free to commit to each other. And married wedding guests can benefit from words, scripture or songs that help them admit marital shortcomings and seek God’s help to repent and forgive.
Scripture. Many weddings include a couple’s favorite Bible verse. If you want to frame your wedding story within God’s story, then you’ll want to use more than one verse to show that God’s Word will be at the center of your marriage. Including more scripture offers ways for loved ones and the congregation to participate, whether by solo, responsive or dramatic reading or reciting from memory. Once you’ve chosen Bible passages, you can search Hymnary.org for songs based on those verses or themes.
Prayer. The Worship Sourcebook and denominational prayer and worship books offer language you can use or adapt for wedding prayers. Check prayers of invocation, confession, consecration and benediction.
Consider making wedding prayers visual. Use liturgical dancers. Have a kneeling bench for the bride and groom. Ask families to gather in a prayer circle with the wedding couple. Tie wedding rings to ribbons or pillows passed throughout the worship space, while everyone says a silent prayer or blessing for the new marriage. Artist and educator Steve Prince says that in New Orleans where he grew up, people release doves at weddings to invoke the Holy Spirit’s presence. People who can’t afford doves wave white handkerchiefs to simulate flying birds.
Symbols of unity. Christian couples exchange wedding rings as a symbol of their covenant in Christ. A pastor may tie a stole or ribbons around the couple’s hands or pour water over their joined hands into a basin to picture joining their lives together. Sometimes a bride and groom pour different colors of sand or salt into a clear vase. Lighting a unity candle has the same meaning.
Some couples ask to share communion as the first “meal” of their marriage. “When the Supper is celebrated as part of a wedding service, the bread and the cup should be distributed not just to the bride and groom but to the entire body of believers,” Al Hoksbergen, a Christian Reformed pastor, wrote in a Reformed Worship wedding theme issue. In a recent conversation however, Duane Kelderman notes that one tricky thing with celebrating communion in a wedding is figuring out how to make the communion celebration hospitable for any who might not wish to participate.
Church involvement. When you accept the Redeemer’s love, you covenant to live as part of Christ’s body, along with all others who’ve accepted God’s love. You commit to live as people set apart to do God’s work in the world. Marriage vows carry a similar intent. Some congregations affirm this mutuality by having an elder present a Bible or devotional book during the wedding. Others create a wedding banner that couples may use when getting married in that church.
- The Special Service Worship Architect
- Larry Visser on wedding music
- Duane Kelderman on weddings and worship
Give yourself a crash course on planning a worshipful wedding by reading:
Wedding planning checklist from Calvin Institute of Christian Worship
Search Hymnary.org for wedding music and related scripture passages. Consult The Worship Sourcebook for language to use or adapt in wedding services. Use or adapt two pastors’ ideas for renewing baptism in weddings (scroll down to “Renewal of Baptism in a Service of Christian Marriage”).
START A DISCUSSION
Feel free to print and distribute these stories at your staff, education, women’s group, worship arts or justice meeting. These questions will help people think about planning weddings that joyfully honor God:
- What do you think about the idea of Christian weddings as a form of worship?
- God’s love in calling a couple together shows God’s care for their identities. Share a story of a wedding that expressed who each partner is separately and together—yet did so in the larger community story of those gathered to witness the wedding.
- How might a wedding convey a couple’s conviction that they are “blessed to be a blessing” or that their marriage is part of the ‘God in Christ, Christ in us, us in the world’ sequence of the Holy Spirit’s work?