There is nothing in life quite like the day of a family wedding. The morning glimpses of the bridal party and the beauty of the bride, the exchange of vows, and the reception celebration, all become a part of the cherished moments that are etched in our hearts forever. Our son Stefen was married to Hilary Ford this month at the historic and beautiful First Presbyterian Church (Founded in 1787) in downtown Pittsburgh. It is marked by spectacular stained glass windows, a grand organ, and a breath-taking aisle view that expands once the immense wooden doors open behind the altar. That view looks beyond the altar to a large stain glassed window set 100 feet beyond. It is as if the bride while seeing her bridegroom in the foreground is looking beyond him to eternity.
The Fords have been good family friends over the past 20 years. We have shared many family meals, basketball, football, soccer games, and ski trips with them. We share a common faith in Christ and the same home church. Barry, Hilary’s Dad, recruited me as an assistant youth soccer coach when our girls (Hilary & Sarah) were just 8 years old. Truth be told, I was really the strength and conditioning coach since I didn’t know anything about soccer. My goal was to develop the girls core strength and prepare them with conditioning drills. Mostly I ended up having them do pushups and I concentrated on running the disruptive ones like my daughter! We had a blast with those girls and three things happened. I became a big fan of soccer, sharing it with my girl and her friends. They became really good and fun to watch. And lastly, I got to watch a sweet, athletic girl named Hilary grow up who would become our son’s bride. How cool is that? My wife, Cindy, and I were recalling some funny moments from Stef’s childhood the week before the wedding and we both quickly got to the Fred Penner story. Fred was a children’s TV host who played the guitar and wore Hawaiian shirts like a kids version of Jimmy Buffett. Stef loved him. He was three years old, happy and talkative with a cute lisp. We were at the Morgantown Mall walking with him and Sarah one winter day. A sweet elderly woman walked up on us and began engaging Stef in conversation. She soon asked him, “What’s your name little boy?” To which he confidently replied, “Fwed, Fwed Penna!” Well part of us is sad that Fwed is all grown up now, but we couldn’t be happier for the bride he has taken.
The Lord had been preparing Stefen and Hilary for one another for a very long time. Perhaps from eternity past, if you believe in God’s providence towards his children. I know that as Moms and Dads we were praying for a godly spouse for them from the time they were babies. We were not matchmaking, we were instead praying that our Lord would choose and prepare the right mate for them. It took a long time before they really began “noticing” each other. Once they did it took only a few short months for them to announce their engagement.
Wedding day was filled with God moments for both of our families. For me, a highlight was my time in prayer before the hustle of the ceremony crying tears of thanksgiving for God’s goodness and mercy to me in my son, his bride Hilary, and my family. In my toast at the rehearsal dinner I shared in the prophet Isaiah’s words that Stefen was, “an oak of righteousness, a planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” Another moment was the toast that Stefen’s best man, Andrew Szczerba, gave at the reception. He celebrated their close friendship then honored Stef for his impact upon him for Christ. He recalled a time when Andrew was out for the season at Penn State following back surgery and he was feeling sorry for himself. Stef visited him at the hospital to lift his spirit. After some encouraging words he opened the Bible to the book of Job. Stef asked him to read out loud Job 1:21 (NLT). He said, “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave.The Lord gave me what I had and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!” That verse became Andrew’s new heart song lifting him with a whole new attitude.
Our side didn’t have all the pressure the Mother of the Bride carries. Barry’s wife Denise did a fantastic job with the wedding planning. I know about that because Cindy had been through that demanding role 10 months prior with Sarah’s wedding. My assignment was easy by comparison, I was blessed to perform the ceremony for them and I was asked by Stefen and Hilary to officiate at their wedding as well. My son is an offensive linemen in the NFL and as such he has a disdain for the guys in the zebra stripes. Consequently, I felt it important to promise not to call a “holding penalty” on him, just a charge to “hold fast” to his bride. One of the most powerful things about a Christian Wedding ceremony is the picture that the bride and the groom represent to all present but especially to God’s people. They are representative of Christ who is our Bridegroom and the church who is the bride of Christ. Christ loves his bride (All of God’s people saved from sin’s penalty by his victory in the cross and resurrection) and lays down his life to save her from her sin. He sanctifies her (makes her holy); finally presenting her at the end of time as his radiant bride.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church…For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.” 5:25-27, 31-32
The Apostle Paul’s word in his letter to the Ephesians above describes the charge to husbands to pour out the initiative and unconditional love that Christ pours out to us. He seeks us out, he initiates forgiveness by extending mercy without qualification and so we must as well (Ephesians 4:32). Paul quotes from Genesis at the first wedding ceremony of the necessity that the man and his wife leave their father and mother. This speaks to separating their allegiance and headship. Next they are commanded to “hold fast” (ESV) or to be “united” becoming one flesh. I heard a message one time about “holding fast” being like velcro. You know that gorilla glue-like bond with a new velcro jacket that takes some real effort to unstick? That’s the way the Lord wants us to “stick” to one another in marriage: emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, financially, and yes for sure in physical intimacy as well! When two people save themselves for marriage and devote themselves to “being the right person” rather than “finding the right person” as Stefen and Hilary have done, the full blessings of God’s design can be powerfully experienced. Their union will be mighty and strong. Like God-made velcro! This is Paul’s last point about the profound mystery and picture that Christian marriage portrays of Christ’s oneness with his bride. The rite of marriage is the oldest rite in the world and instituted by God in the beginning. The Bible begins with the marriage of Adam & Eve (Genesis 2:24) and ends with the Marriage Banquet Feast of Jesus, our Bridegroom, calling his bride the church to be with Him forever.
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory. For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people. Revelation 19:7-8
The Marriage celebration was lifted up by Christ in Cana of Galilee (John 2:1-11) and commended by Paul to be honorable among all people everywhere. Our secular culture needs our marriages to be the salt that preserves covenant marriage and light as a picture of the gospel. We believe that Christian marriage is a sacred covenant that man cannot define as he desires. Through God’s covenant a man and a woman become bound and united to one another “the deepest mystery of experience in the very sacrament of divine love. Those who take the vows of marriage are brought into the closest and most sacred of human relationships.” 1 We praise God for Stefen & Hilary’s union in the covenant of marriage. We pray it will be a powerful picture of Christ’s gospel to the world. We haven’t lost a son, we have gained a godly daughter and who knows maybe grandchildren sometime soon! 2
- The Evangelical Church Alliance Manual p. 65.
- Leo Wisniewski is the Executive Director for Locking Arms Men and an ordained minister. Locking Arms is a Pittsburgh based ministry that is building an authentic community of men who love God, love one another and love their neighbor. See www.lockingarmsmen.org