The wedding ceremony: what’s it all about?
Back around Valentine’s Day, 40 couples who attend the Trinity Assembly of God assembled at the church’s Oasis Ministry Center to attend a party at which they renewed their weddings vows.
The Rev. Thomas Schrader of Mount Pleasant, Ohio, had been invited to come here to preside, and he talked about the traditional marriage ceremony, which, when you think about it, is loaded with traditions, most of them Biblically based.
For example, the church is effectively divided in half: the family of the bride on one side, and the family of the groom on the other. It’s not to keep the fighting down, Schrader said, laughing. Marriage is a sacred covenant, actually, it’s a sacrament, and having both sides present for the ceremony provides a covenant setting, he said.
The white runner that groomsmen generally unwind with great care before the ceremony is symbolic of walking on holy ground, and brings God into the picture to seal the marriage covenant, just as God appeared to Moses when he was given the Ten Commandments.
Parents of the bride and groom have special seats because they’re part of the covenant, too, and need to be recognized. It also makes it easier for the father to “give away” his daughter.
The groom appears first, Schrader said, because he’s “the covenant initiator” and bears most of the responsibility in seeing to it that the covenant relationship is fulfilled (although some people who think in terms of equal rights for husband and wife might take issue with this and some of his other interpretations).
When the bride walks down the aisle, dressed in white, “spotless” and on the arm of her father, everyone there becomes a witness. When the father “gives her away,” he hands over the responsibility for her care and well-being to the groom. It also signals that the parents approve of the union and transfer responsibility to the groom.
As everyone knows, the white wedding gown symbolizes the bride’s purity. (All of us probably know some brides who have been married several times in white gowns. So much for that tradition.) Schrader said during the ceremony, the bride is “cleansed by the word of God,” and the groom assumes a priestly duty in the home as the spiritual head of the household. As the leader in this agreement, Schrader said, the groom takes the vow first.
The wedding ring is an obvious symbol of the transfer of authority, and it also gives the bride strength and protects her.
The bridal veil is a sign of modesty and respect.
When the minister pronounces the couple man and wife, it erases all doubt. The new couple is introduced to the audience, representing their new life and establishing their name changes, just as Abram got a new name when God gave him the covenant that would change the world.
Guests sign the guest book and thus provide an official list of witnesses. The receiving line allows the guests to bless the newlyweds and their parents, too.
Although the official cutting of the wedding cake sometimes gets out of hands these days, when the bride and groom give each other a slice of nice white cake, it symbolizes their becoming one flesh: “I am a part of you, and you are a part of me,” Schrader said.
When the newlyweds leave the church, attendees used to throw rice, which could hurt. It represented a wish for fertility, but the rice might have been bad for birds or just a pain for the church custodian. Now, Schrader said, you sometimes see bird seed or bubbles. I’m not sure what the bubbles represent.
The 40 couples at the Oasis Ministry Center enjoyed a catered meal and had wedding cake that night. A nicely decorated table was full of pictures the participants had provided of their own weddings. When it came time to step forward and renew their vows, no one backed out.