I was invited to a wedding. People I've known for many years though only as passing friends.
With excitement I was told; "It's happening! Come to our wedding."
The emotion was genuine, as was the invitation.
So of course I went.
Weddings speak strongly of God's love for mankind.
Like the morning sunrise over the ocean, the beauty of a lush green forest and the majesty of snow capped mountain ranges, weddings give witness to the love and glory of God, even when they are theologically silent.
Paul tells us that when a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife it is a grand mystery. It is the deep, unexplainable and illogical but wonderful truth of Jesus redeeming mankind in action.The conclusion of all history will be a wedding. No, it will be THE wedding. The wedding that all other countless earthly weddings have been pointing to. That of the bride and the Lamb, the saved and the Saviour, the church and her Lord, us and Jesus.
As Christians we believe that earthly weddings are ordained by God. It is God who joins a man and a woman, and that earthly union is broken only by physical death.
As Christians we honour marriage by strict celibacy outside of marriage. And we honour marriage by monogamy in marriage.
However today in western society, many choose to cohabit. For many and varied reasons. Even professing Christians are found in these unorthodox circumstances.
Some who clearly plan to marry, feel that once they are engaged, then they may as well start living together.
I don't believe this is how Jesus intended marriage.
I think engagement is the serious promise of marriage, which can be broken if necessary without dishonour to either party, when celibacy is respected. Therefore engagement should remain a time of celibacy in honour of God, and families, and each other. It need not be extended. Paul states that it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
Personally I don't believe girlfriends or boyfriends are a tenable Christian practice. As a Christian, either we are seeking/open to marriage, or we aren't. Once we are ready to marry, we seek wisdom and direction on courtship and marriage. Courtship is always with a view to marriage. In the meantime, when we are younger, and not mature enough to marry, friendships should be enjoyed, friendships which honour people's independence and availability for courtship as well as their celibacy.
I am well aware that society does not share my personal views. These views come from my faith in Jesus. It's how I believe we can best serve God as single and as married people of faith.
But what of the rest of society? Those that may have some faith, but are not as "religious" as others. Or those who profess no faith, or alternative faiths?
Sometimes a couple who has lived together will decide to marry. They may already share children or have had previous relationships.
Is this marriage to be shunned? Looked down upon? Ridiculed? Avoided? Is it a farce? What's the point????
I joyfully say no to all these questions.
As a Christian I know everything that has come to me is out of Gods grace and mercy.
My childhood, my abilities, my forgiveness, my faith and repentance, my job, my income, my marriage, my celibacy, my children; everything is a gift, nothing is earnt.
(on a seperate note, I have not been "rewarded" with a great marriage because I "suffered" celibacy. Celibacy is a gift that is of great worth, as is marriage.)
Who am I to say that the gift of a blessed marriage is only for committed Christians? What if God is present at every marriage? What if God approves of all marriages, no matter what has gone before?
If it is God who joins a man and a woman, does he do this from a distance? Or does he actually attend the wedding? Jesus certainly attended weddings, and often spoke of them in his teaching.
I guess the point I'm making is that all marriages, even delayed ones, can and should be honoured in a similar way to the returning prodigal son.
The ever loving father waited patiently for the returning son, and reinstated him freely at his own cost and to the dislike of the elder more outwardly compliant son.
Surely we Christians who understand the depth and true significance of marriage would/should celebrate all those who knowingly or unknowingly are witnessing to the coming great wedding when they themselves return/come to God's gift of marriage?
Of course all of these situations are more complicated than how I have described them, but none of us have perfect marriages or perfect celibacy leading into marriage. Yet God chooses us for his perfect Son.