A Friday wedding beckons – and so off to a very smart hotel in Ullswater. We look forward to sharing in the celebrations of my nephew and his bride along with our wider families. In other words, a typical family wedding.
I can’t help comparing this with an old photograph from a bygone age I came across this week. It depicts the dining table in my grandparents house, splendidly set for the meal following my parents wedding in 1938. Very smart; I’m sure they had the best ham. But by our standards today, altogether unremarkable.
There could not be a bigger contrast over just three generations. Today weddings are a huge expense, costing on average more than £18.000. One recent survey found that one in five couples had to take out credit cards and loans to pay for their big day with a further one in four borrowing money from family and friends.
This same survey revealed that 12 per cent admitting they put items bought from their gift list on eBay and 10 per cent admit returning them to the shop. Sounds like me.
But before I go on about this nuptial overspend, we need to go to Cana, to John 2. You will recall that this wedding was underfunded. And what did Jesus do? If you didn’t know the story, you would never guess that he made available a further 906 bottles of the finest vintage wine. That kept the party going for a little longer.
For extravagance is one sign of the Kingdom of God, ever since the Psalmist (23:5) praised God for his cup running over – through being overfilled I should point out. It is God who puts the extra into extravagance.
So what about the expense of the modern wedding? Apparently one in nine newlyweds admits they even came close to breaking up due to financial stress of their big day.
I guess so much depends on motive. Nearly half of wedding couples blamed social pressure for their expense – they just felt that had to. And there lies the rub. So many couples, usually already living together, keep postponing their wedding for when they can afford it rather than – as was the case with my parents – just doing it with the resources they had.
For the problem is that all the research shows that couples who live together are at a greater risk for divorce than non-cohabiting couples.
And so we want to encourage such couples to get married, not least as a society by refusing to put them under pressure to have a Hello-inspired spectacular, as fantasised by Paris Hilton: “I’d imagine my wedding as a fairy tale; huge, beautiful and white.” Moreover, spending to impress is to live your life through other people’s eyes.
And here the church has a key role to play, for some one third of all UK weddings are still in church. So two years back the Diocese worked hard to standardise not just wedding fees but the essential extras so that we can offer the full works for less than £500, given that the fees set by Parliament are just over £400.
Primarily what counts is, as ever, relationships. The reason I am looking forward to today’s wedding is not the quality of the wine or the finesse of the cuisine but the opportunity of renewing acquaintances and catching up with people from my (distant) past. No one relishes a meal alone.
For we all enjoy a good banquet, Jesus for one – and so the Bible concludes with John’s vision of a glorious future, with creation healed and the Lamb seated on the throne.
And how does John describe the celebrations? You guessed it. “Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Happy are those who have been invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” (Revelation 19:9 The wedding feast par excellence, no expense spared and a guest list as long as his outstretched arm.