The Traditional Christian Wedding
SYMBOLS IN GOD’S COVENANT
God sanctified marriage as a union between a man and a woman under a covenant by God. In Genesis 15:9-10, God used a blood covenant as a formal, solemn and binding agreement–a vow or pledge–between two parties made by “cutting” or dividing animals into two parts. After splitting them precisely in half, the animal halves were arranged opposite each other on the ground. leaving a pathway between the two halves. The two parties making the covenant would walk from either end of the path, meeting in the middle.
This ground in the middle of the two pieces of the animal were regarded as holy ground. On this ground, the two individuals would cut the palms of their right hands and then join these hands together as they mutually pledged a vow, promising all their rights, possessions, and benefits to the other. Then, the two would exchange their belt and outer coat, and in doing so, take some part of the other person’s name.
FAMILIES SEATED ON OPPOSITE SIDES
It is customary for family and friends to sit on opposite sides of the church or the setting, if outside. This is to symbolize the cutting of the blood covenant. The witnesses–the family, friends, and invited guests–are all participants in the wedding ceremony, or covenant, and many of them have made sacrifices to help prepare the couple for marriage and to support them in their holy union.
The significance of the center aisle is to represent the meeting ground, or the pathway between the animal pieces where the blood covenant is established. Sometimes a white runner is placed down the center aisle to symbolize the holy ground where two lives are joined together as one by God. (See Exodus 3;5 and Matthew 19:6)
In Biblical times, the parents of the bride and groom were ultimately responsible for discerning God’s will concerning the choice of a spouse for their children. The wedding tradition of seating the parents in a place of prominence is meant to recognize their responsibility for the couple’s union. Today the groom’s parents (including family and friends) are seated on the right side, facing the wedding platform or front where the vows are exchanged between the two parties. The bride’s parents (including family and friends) are seated on the left side opposite the groom’s family.
GROOM AND MINISTER ENTER FIRST
Ephesians 5:23-32 reveals that earthly marriages are a picture of the church’s union with Christ. God initiated the relationship through Christ, who called and came for His bride, the church. Christ is the Groom, who established the blood covenant first initiated by God. For this reason, the minister leads the groom and groomsmen into the auditorium from the right side of the auditorium or setting, if outside.
FATHER ESCORTS AND GIVES AWAY THE BRIDE
It was a Jewish tradition that the father’s duty was to present his daughter in marriage as a pure virgin bride. Today parents (father and mother) took responsibility for endorsing their daughter’s choice in a husband. With the father escorting his daughter down the aisle he is saying, “I have done my very best to present you, my daughter, as a pure bride. I approve of this man as your choice for a husband, and now I bring you to him.” So when the minister asks, “Who gives this woman to be wed to this man?,” the father responds, “Her mother and I.” This giving away of the bride, demonstrates the parent’s blessing on the union and the transfer of care and responsibility to the husband.
BRIDE’S WEDDING DRESS
The white wedding dress has a two-fold significance. It is a symbol of the wife’s purity in heart and life, and in reverence to God. It’s also a picture of the righteousness of Christ described in Revelation 19:7-8. Christ clothes His bride, the church, in His own righteousness as a garment of “fine linen, bright and clean.”
Today many brides choose a wedding dress of various colors to add a touch of personality to the old-school tradition and prove to be a serious standout in a sea of white.
The bridal veil shows the modesty and purity of the bride and her reverence for God. It reminds us of the temple veil which was torn in two when Christ died on the cross. The removing of the veil took away the separation between God and man, giving believers access into the very presence of God. Since Christian marriage is a picture of the union between Christ and the church, we see another reflection of this relationship in the removal of the bridal veil. Through marriage, the couple now has full access to one another (1 Corinthians 7:4)
JOINING RIGHT HANDS
As we saw in the blood covenant, the two individuals would join together the bleeding palms of their right hands. When their blood mixed, they would exchange a vow, forever promising all of their rights and resources to the other. In a Christian wedding, as the bride and groom face one another to say their vows, they join right hands and publicly commit everything they are, and everything they possess, in a covenant relationship. They leave their families, forsake all other, and become one with their spouse.
EXCHANGING OF THE RINGS
The wedding ring is an outward symbol of a couple’s inward bond, illustrating with an unending circle the eternal quality of love–it signifies so much more in light of the blood covenant. A ring was used as a seal of authority. When pressed into hot wax, the impression of the ring left an official seal on legal documents. Therefore, when the couple wears a wedding ring, they demonstrate their submission to God’s authority over their marriage. The couple recognizes that God brought them together and that He is intricately involved in every part of their covenant relationship.
PRONOUNCEMENT OF HUSBAND AND WIFE
The pronouncement officially declares that the bride and groom are now husband and wife. This moment establishes the exact beginning of their covenant. The two are now one in the eyes of God.
PRESENTATION OF THE COUPLE
When the minister introduces the couple to the wedding guests, he is drawing attention to their new identity and the name change brought about through the marriage. Similarly, in the blood covenant, the two parties would exchange some part of their names.
A ceremonial meal was often a part of the blood covenant. At a wedding reception, guests are invited to share with the couple in the blessings of the covenant.
CUTTING OF THE CAKE
The cutting of the cake is another picture of the cutting of the covenant. When the bride and groom take pieces of the cake and feed it to each other, once again, they are showing how they have given their all to one another, and will care for the other as one flesh. At a Christian wedding, the cutting and feeding of the cake can be done joyfully, but should also be done lovingly and reverently, in a way that honors the covenant relationship.
THROWING OF RICE
The tradition of throwing rice at weddings originated with the throwing of sed. It was meant to remind couples of one of the primary purposes in marriage–to create a family that will serve and honor the Lord. Therefore, guests symbolically throw rice as a gesture of blessing for the spiritual and physical fruitfulness of the marriage.
Most recently, rice has been substituted by sunflower seeds because as birds eat the rice, it tends to swell and causes them to bloat and eventually suffocate and die. Therefore, sunflower seeds are less harmful and more accepted.