04/29/2011 12:59 pm ET | Updated Jun 29, 2011

The Royal Wedding As Sacrament

Wilt thou have this woman to be thy wedded wife, to live together according to God's law in the holy estate of matrimony?

Wilt thou have this man to be thy wedded husband, to live together according to God's law in the holy estate of matrimony?

With these words, two young people in fine attire at the altar of Westminster Abbey took part in a sacrament of the Anglican Church -- matrimony. And Billions of us took part with them.

Sacraments are holy rituals that declare the gracious nature of the individual's relationships to community and to God. Rituals of any kind mark time, and make meaning by creating liminal time, or time beyond time, when things are transformed from what they were to what they are to become. In the case of marriage, these two individuals have through their oaths and actions, and the blessing of the church entered into that comforting and grand place that the church describes as the holy estate of matrimony. And of course, we all wish them well.

But why did so many of us watch this wedding, either in real time or in the endless loops that are now permeating the media? Even some of us who rolled our eyes as the frenzy mounted felt caught a bit of the fever as we watched the church service, the excitement of the crowds and witnessed the couple kiss on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. Perhaps the reason for all the hoopla is that this royal wedding, like all weddings, became a very public affirmation of the power of making a covenant, even in -- or especially in -- the midst of chaotic and uncertain life.

I have performed many weddings and they are always fraught with the same questions that have arisen in this royal wedding -- cost, the guest list, the distraction of it all. But if done well, which it seems that this one has been, the sacrament of marriage serves as a time when families can manage to rise above the difficult relationships, traumas, and losses of the past, and for a time occupy themselves with the sacred task of creating a covenant between individuals and families. No matter what has come before, the nature of marriage requires a focus on the future. Weddings are intrinsically hopeful acts.

Yet they are also realistic. Within the very liturgy of marriage there is acknowledgment of sickness and poverty, and the certainty of death. Standing on the balcony of Buckingham Palace were individuals who have seen great sorrow and the absence of the groom's mother was a reminder of the fragility both of weddings and of life itself. In the face of all this, the liturgy of marriage involves a forceful assertion of the value and necessity of commitment to the future with mutual support and unity, even within the face of adversity.

Great Britain has perhaps never needed the reminder to be reconciled and unified more than now. Economic uncertainty and civic disunity cloud Britain's politic just as in America. In both countries it is easy to feel alienated and suspicious of others, and cynicism and despair creep into the daily life of many families as people struggle with personal and social hardships. Part of why people are objecting to the spectacle of it all is that it is a distraction from all that is seriously wrong in the world and that is calling out for our attention.

For this very reason it is important not to think of this event in London as a party -- this marriage is a sacrament, something holy and sacred that, in its heightened profile, declares the possibilities of the power of covenant and love to all of us.

The sacrament of marriage includes the blessing of God's providence. Within the ornate language of the liturgy of matrimony shines a deep longing that God will strengthen the ties that bind the couple to one another and bring them peace. Perhaps what we are all longing for when we watch this beautiful spectacle is to remember God's blessing on our own lives, to help reconcile our own relationships and bring peace to our fractured world.


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