The Blessing of Marriage
Were we to draw a graph of the sacraments from 'Only in Church' at one end of the axis to 'Overlap with wider society' at the other than marriage would be one of the more worldly Sacraments, in that other ways of doing it do exist. People don't have to get married and they certainly don't have to get married in Church. This reality emphasises the fact that sacraments are often ways of involving God in key moments of change and transformation in people's lives, that they are ways given by God to bless a new stage of life. These sacraments meet a universal human longing to mark key events with a public ritual.
A sense of marriage as blessing of an existing love is integral to what is happening, and is what separates a religious wedding from a civil ceremony. In both the couple are united, in both vows are made- but the blessing of God comes only in Church. The blessing invites, calls, God to be involved in the lives of this couple always, to be present, to guide, to encourage, to be at work, to enable and allow them to flourish. Where a civil marriage is about the two people coming wonderfully together there is, additionally, something in a Church wedding about the support that will surround them in all of their joys and frustrations, both from the Church community and from the Living God at work between and within them.
The key thing about the blessing is that it is both a recognition and affirmation of all that has brought them to this day and also a statement of hope for all that the future will bring. It is the hope that, with God at work, the couple will relish the good stuff of life and grow stronger through the messy stuff as well. Marriage does not create a new reality but rather blesses and witnesses to an existing reality.
The key thing about blessing (and, in this context, the blessing of a marriage) is that it recognises something as being holy, as being of God. Blessing is offering praise and thanksgiving- an emphasis which finds its true fulfilment in the blessing of a marriage.
At its core the sacrament of marriage is about two people freely choosing to marry each other, surrounded by the love of their friends and families, in the presence of God and while asking God for his his strength and inspiration in all that the future holds. The fact that some marriages don't work out, that couples are sometimes overwhelmed by events, that people aren't always who they purport to be, does not destroy the value of what is potentially at stake. The truth is that our mature flourishing and fulfilment is often dependent on our being accepted and loved for who we are, a process which happens most transformationally and securely through marriage.
When the stakes are this high, it is no wonder that a wedding day is such a big event, or that people entering into this great adventure are so ready to ask God's blessing and grace.