by Bronwyn Lea
Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom, and Propel Sophia seeks out the voices of truly wise women and asks them to share worked examples of how they express faith in daily life. Pull up a chair at Sophia’s table, won’t you? There’s plenty of space. Learn more here.
We had been engaged for a couple of weeks and wedding planning was already feeling overwhelming. We didn’t know where or when to get married, or how our guest list should look. I didn’t know what I wanted my wedding dress to look like, or who we should have in our wedding party. All we knew was that we wanted to get married. So why not elope and bypass the months of decision-making?
Weeks later—when the cost of even a simple wedding was looming large—eloping almost seemed the responsible thing to do. “Why spend all that money on a wedding?” we reasoned. “Wouldn’t it be better to save up for a down payment on a house? Or even give the money away for gospel ministry?”
It hadn’t taken long for me to develop a fairly severe case of the Wedding Heebie-Jeebies, and the high gloss of the bridal industry had me ready to pack our bags and find a willing Elvis-impersonator to witness our vows.
But we didn’t. And in hindsight, I am so grateful, because there were a couple of great reasons to opt for the good ole’ wedding ceremony rather than the whirlwind elopement.
As much as I thought of my wedding as a private event and our relationship as a personal matter– the fact remained that while marriage happens between two private people, it is a very public thing with a significant societal impact. The one thing marriage does that living together doesn’t is to make you a family, a new building block in the community. It changes your legal status, your financial affairs, and your next-of-kin. It reshuffles your place in society, and changes you from being a fiancé(e) to a husband or wife. Even if we had eloped, our marriage would still have been public and we would have needed to announce (and celebrate) that change officially in some way.
There is a reason solemn vows need witnesses: witnesses are people who testify to the truth of what we have promised so we can be held accountable. To really do their job, then, witnesses to our marriage shouldn’t be strangers hastily grabbed in a foyer to attest to our signature. I came to realize our witnesses should be people who know us and who will continue to know us, so that they can remind us of what we promised before God and them.
Marriage is a real union of real sinners: the times of “for poorer,” “for worse” and “in sickness” come just as surely as the richer, better and healthy times. In those seasons, it is a great help to have people who were there when you made your vows, and who remind you to keep your oath, even when it hurts (Psalm 15:4).
Marriage is afforded tremendous dignity because it mirrors the most significant of relationships: that between Christ and the church. It is no small thing that God chooses to celebrate this union with us with a feast: Revelation 19 describes the great rejoicing at that most sumptuous of celebrations – the marriage supper of the Lamb. If our marriages are a reflection of the heavenly reality, our wedding celebrations should be a mirror too: joyful, and celebrated by many guests. “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper,” says Revelation 19:9.
Apart from the fact that eloping would probably have left our family and friends feeling left out and hurt, if we’d skipped the wedding we would have robbed our marriage of its sacramental kick-off celebration. Our wedding didn’t have to be big (not every friend we’d ever loved had to be there), or expensive (trust me, if we could do it again we would have axed the wedding favors and more). But a wedding should have people: witnesses, celebrants, community.
My longing to elope was fueled by a desire to get married more quickly so we could start our happily-ever-after right away, but if I was honest, I had also developed a somewhat jaded view of weddings. A little time in the Scriptures encouraged me to rethink the goodness of weddings and the value of surrounding covenant vows with people who would celebrate the creation of a new family with us. There was so much more blessing in there than I’d realized.
Bronwyn Lea is the editorial curator of Propel Sophia, and her book Beyond Awkward Side Hugs: Living as Christian Brothers and Sisters in a Sex-crazed World is available for pre-order. Find out more at bronlea.com and sign up for her monthly newsletter on all her favorite things here.