It’s interesting that at the end of the Gospel of John, John writes that he’s not telling us everything. He only writes what will help people have faith in Jesus, because if he were to write everything there wouldn’t be enough books in the world to hold it in. And so it’s really significant that John is the only Gospel that tells us about Jesus at a Wedding.
All the other gospels open with stories about Jesus’ Baptism and Temptation, but not John. Instead John opens up his book by telling us about Jesus at a wedding. And He calls it a sign.
Which is what I think all weddings are.
Think about it, Weddings are the only time a lot of people will ever step in a church or hear a minister talk about God. And to be fair, if you have to pick between them coming to a wedding or a church service, weddings shouldn’t be a bad first step for anyone. At least the Gospel of John thought so.
But I’ll get back to that.
So last week was about how I’ve learned to do weddings, but this week is the most important part for pulling one off successfully. This is about how to do the Rehearsal.
Before The Rehearsal
Hopefully, you’ve already checked with the state that the wedding will take place in. You’ve found out what they require for a person to legally perform the ceremony (some states ask for you to register with a county clerk, some ask for a letter from a church verifying you as someone who can do this, and some just want you to sign the Wedding license). You’ve done the pre-marital counseling, you’ve written the Wedding sermon and have the format of the Wedding to look at. Now it’s just time to practice.
A couple of very practical tips here. 1) You need to find out if there is going to be a Wedding coordinator or not, and if so ask the couple what part she/he will be helping with. Will they expect you to do most everything, and the coordinator just to help people come in at the right time? Or will you just be there to know where to stand the next day? I like to help lead everything that will happen on the stage, and let the coordinator help with stuff like timing and placement. If it’s a good coordinator and after you’ve had some experience you will probably be able to do just about everything. The first few times though, you’re probably going to want to give the coordinator most of the responsibility for the rehearsal, at least until you learn the ropes.
2). Who does the couple want to be able to speak into the way this Wedding should look? Weddings and funerals can bring out the best and worst in any family. At the rehearsal there tend to be several people trying to give quite a few different suggestions. The key here is to think ahead. I ask the couple well before the rehearsal, “Who do you want me to listen to?” That way just because someone has a dominant personality or passionate ideas, they don’t have to change the direction of the wedding.
I was taught to always begin with the end in mind. So we start off by gathering all the bridal party on the stage and having them get in the spots they will stand in for the actual ceremony. Sometimes they mark the spot so they can remember where it is. But we get everybody in their place, and then we go through the logistics of walking in and walking out to the pace of the songs the couple has chosen. This is called the Processional.
The majority of time, I need to tell people to walk slower. During the rehearsal I want to remind them all that what feels like a good pace today will be too fast tomorrow. Because of nerves and adrenaline they will be walking faster than they think they are. I’ve seen Weddings where people could have medaled for Speed-walking. This is a moment they will want to cherish later. So slow down now.
Each person will walk in (at the order that you hopefully have on your format) and go to the spot on the stage that you have started rehearsal with. And then…when everyone else is there. The Bride comes in with the father or significant person to hand her off. I’ve actually found that we need to practice this part 2-3 times. It’s way more confusing at first than it should be. People never know what exactly to do so it winds up looking a bit like a tug of war for the girl, between two guys. Here’s what I’ve found to be helpful.
I tell the dad/family person to savor this moment. Make sure he says goodbye in a way that he can remember and appreciate. And I tell the groom, after the Bride and dad have kissed or hugged or whatever, to step toward her, and let the father hand his daughters hand over to the groom.
Then we all get in our spots, and practice walking out. This is called the Recessional. And if you and the Bridal party feel good about what you’ve done, then consider yourself rehearsed.
It’s here that I always try and tell them this: Make sure not to lock your knees, and keep breathing. We don’t want you passing out, in my particular tribe, we aren’t that charismatic, and we don’t get credit for that. But then I let them know that every wedding I’ve ever done there have been mistakes in it. One time I threw up right in the middle of a wedding (and I was the minister!), people trip or come in at the wrong time, or forget the line to that song. But most of the time, the audience won’t even know it happened. (unless you throw up, trust me they catch that one) So just try and keep going, and don’t stress out. This is a moment of celebration, and what is a mistake one minute is a priceless memory just moments later.
Weddings as Gospel Productions
You know, there are not many things that most unchurched people feel like they need from churches. They don’t get haircuts or taxes done at church, they don’t come to us for legal help. But when it comes to Weddings and funerals the church is where a lot of people turn to for help. And it’s easy to try and make that it into some kind of manipulative “Gospel presentation” or force some kind of invitation. But that probably isn’t serving them well, and it just might miss an opportunity to not just talk about the Gospel, but to put it on display. Weddings are a Gospel Production.
So it’s here that I like to tell this group of people one more thing.
I tell them that I love doing weddings almost more than anything else in ministry. Because I believe it is a parable, or picture for who God is and what He’s doing in the world. I tell them that I love weddings because Jesus opened up his ministry to serve a broken and hurting humanity, by affirming and celebrating humanity at it’s heart. With a party, with wine and friends at a good wedding.
So, I tell them, I know that some of you may not be religious, and you may not know what you think about God. But I want you to know that you are getting to act out a movie, a parable about the heart of God. Romance helps us to tap into a deep vein of who God is. That’s why John opens up with a wedding. Because Weddings celebrate what happens when love must move forward. And that’s why John opens up His Gospel with a wedding.
Because God so loves the world.