People often said to me when I was a pastor that doing funerals must be so difficult compared to (for eg.) doing a wedding which would be a happy occasion. Truth to tell, I always preferred funerals to weddings. Partly because a funeral generally tends to be more grounded in reality than a wedding… As proof of this, have you ever heard anyone ever speak of a “fairytale funeral”?
I was reflecting on this as I attended a wedding on the weekend. It was a lovely wedding, held at a local wineral on a sunny day, with a clear fresh night lit by a full moon, string trio and jazz ensemble, great food and wine, good friends etc. etc. Everything that makes for a great celebration.
The ceremony was done by a Christian minister – with the addition of a reading of “the Art of Marriage”, a Buddhist Blessing and Christian prayers led by the celebrant’s wife. The sermon/address/chat by the minister was what many wedding sermons tend to be these days: belated pre-marriage counselling in the form of three pieces of good advice for a good marriage. One could have no theological problems with it because there was no theology in it. Oh well, no expects the Summa at a wedding, I guess.
But while everything was really lovely, after a while I became aware that there was something missing in the ceremony. Something GLARINGLY missing.
Take for instance the text they read at the beginning, “The Art of Marriage”. If you haven’t seen this piece of mediocre feel-good wisdom, here it is. There are different versions of it on the web. This is the version read at the wedding I went to as far as I can remember. See if you can pick up what is missing from “The Art of Marriage” before I tell you.
The Art of Marriage
A good marriage must be created.
In marriage, the little things are the big things…
It is never being too old to hold hands.
It is remembering to say ‘I love you’ often.
It is the beauty of a loving, committed bond: emotional, social, spiritual, physical oneness.
It is never going to sleep angry.
It is having a mutual sense of values and common objectives.
It is standing together facing the world.
It is speaking words of appreciation and demonstrating gratitude in thoughtful ways.
It is the capacity to forgive and forget.
It is giving each other an atmosphere in which each can grow.
It is not only marrying the right person …
It is being the right partner.
Did you spot it? I’m sure you did if you yourself are married (or have been) and have children.
Yep, AND HAVE CHILDREN. All of us who are married with children know that Marriage truly graduates from being a hobby to being a true “Art” in the raising of a family.
Almost uniformly, all marriage services I have attended in recent years omit any reference to the other reason God instituted marriage: the generation and education of children (Catechism 1660). Not even the marriage blessing – which was once solely for the purpose of blessing the bride so that she would be fruitful in bearing children – any longer mentions children. The prayers don’t mention children. The readings don’t mention children. The songs (if there are any – and often these days there are not – Bertie Wooster would be dismayed to find that a the modern wedding he would not get the chance to beat out a few bars of “The Voice that Breathed O’er Eden”) don’t mention children. NO ONE MENTIONS CHILDREN!
Yet in the speeches the parents of the bride and groom declared their pride in their children, and their children reciprocated in thanking their parents for their love and upbringing. How come the penny doesn’t drop, everyone realise that, God-willing, this new couple will one day be celebrating (and paying for) their offspring’s weddings in turn?
There was a big blank book that everyone could sign and leave nice messages and well-wishes for the new husband and wife. Using my new mobile phone, I found the traditional nuptial blessing on the internet and copied it into the book. This is how it goes:
May the God of Abraham,
the God of Isaac,
and the God of Jacob be with you
and may He fulfill His blessings in you,
that you may see your children’s children even to the third and fourth generation,
and thereafter may have life everlasting,
by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns forever. Amen.