Monday, June 18, 2012 12:00 AM
Children and wedding proclamation are facts that can and often must occupy the wedding preacher in several possible ways.
The reality of children is an implicit, if not explicit, part of many wedding sermons and it is a sensitive area for both couples and congregational listeners, especially relatives.
Homiletically, the mention of children in a sermon is usually determined by the theology of the preacher and/or denomination under which auspices the service is being conducted. In some cases the overt understanding of marriage as productive of children and the creation of a family -- beyond just the two marrying -- is stated liturgically and forms the backdrop against which the sermon is proclaimed. Sometimes the emphasis is overt and significant and in other instances children are only alluded to as a possible part of the couple's unfolding marriage.
While this understanding of marriage is laudable personally and theologically there are all the unknown future tragedies of potential infertility, miscarriage and stillborn children. Do these possibilities mean the preacher's speaks lightly -- it at all -- about children in a marriage? Will couples in these situations later have reason to look back on their wedding and be burdened with guilt and pain for the marital admonishments given to them on their wedding day? Certainly counseling with a couple before marriage is essential generally to get a sense of how the couple understands their marriage and the fact of children. Further, what if a couple decides they have community-oriented vocations for which living these out does not include children? And what if, given denominational decisions, the couple is same sex? Any of these factors will influence the writing of a wedding sermon.
Another homiletical reality that can challenge the creation of wedding proclamation is a wedding which inevitably is also celebrating the blending of families with children. Mention of the children, particularly those who still live with their parents, seems realistic and obvious. A wedding homily in this instance has the additional task of not simply commenting on a new couple but the creation of a new family simultaneously. This is a sensitive area since some of the children involved may be deeply resentful of their parents' new marriage. The preacher would do well to inquire of the couple how they might understand including mention of the children in the sermon.
Another interesting variant of children and a new marriage was explored in my seminary's wedding proclamation class: the marriage of older people with adult children. This too can be a situation fraught with dissension as adult children may have vigorously weighed in against the marriage for reasons of memory, alienation, concerns for parental health and even financial reasons. The phrase "we are all adults here" may apply with the sense that preacher is writing a wedding sermon respecting the wishes of two adults with no responsibilities towards adult children at this point in their lives other than love.
The nature of biblical texts related to children varies somewhat between the Old and New Testament. There are multiple references in the psalms, particularly the wording of Psalms 127 and 128, on the role of children in married life and these have found their way into wedding sermons. Mention of children in the New Testament falls into two different areas: one is the acknowledge and protection of children and the other is the use of the words "child" and "children" as terms of loving address to adult Christians (such as in the epistles of John). Liturgically, the symbology of the Holy Family celebrated at Christmas is a cultural backdrop to the sense of the meaning of a wedding for many people.
Apart from the mention of children in a wedding sermon as the possibility inherent in marriage, the preacher -- depending on the couple -- may speak of the wedding's celebration as the potential creation of a future habitat for children, a place of safety, nurture and promise. In any wedding sermons, in all cases, the preacher does well to speak at length with the couple about the matter of children to honor their context in creating the wedding sermon.
The final article in the series is, "Same-Sex Couples and Wedding Proclamation."