I was more than a little surprised by the choice of songs. About one hundred of us were gathered in the reception area of an Indianapolis-area country club following a Christian wedding service.
It was the moment when the bride -she looked radiant!- was to dance with her father. The DJ announced that fact. The father was sitting next to me and as he stood up he whispered, "Pray for me." I told him I would be praying for him. The prayer had nothing to do with any dance steps, but with a father's ability to dance with his daughter and keep his full-to-overflowing heart in check. I was praying he could "hold it together."
Usually, at a wedding reception when the bride dances with her father, the song drives everyone in the room to tears. But this bride had chosen the Beatles' "When I'm Sixty Four." It sort of sounds like a bouncy, British pub song. Almost impossible to dance to. And we watched...listened... and many of us smiled.
Sitting there I was struck by the precision and predictability of the elements at a wedding party. There are the pictures following the service. There is the entrance of the wedding party and this is -according to current practices- done to music fit for a hockey game with the booming voice of the DJ naming each member of the group. There is the toast by the best man...the toast by the maid of honor. There is the throwing of the bouquet...often the tossing of a garter. There is the cutting of the cake. (Which often means either the bride or groom -or both- end up wearing much of the cake on their face.)
Then -and only then- it is time for the couple's first dance...then the bride's dance with her dad...the groom's dance with his mom.
One thing follows another. In wedding after wedding.
So I sat there listening to the Beatles, thinking about the power and necessity of ritual in our lives. We Americans like to make things up as we go. We don't want to be trapped by the customs of the past. Mega- churches are filled with worshippers who insist they are tired of the old rituals. People want "new." People want "different."
Then why, at weddings, do we want these same elements...in the same order?
You see I believe there is power in ritual. In knowing what comes next. We're relieved of the stress of having to come up with something new on our own. Knowing the DJ is going to announce the bride's dance with her father allows us to focus on the moment...settle into the moment...and enjoy it. Delight in the relationships...the people side of things.
And, sometimes, the element or ritual was developed for a good reason by people years...decades...ago. Weddings are a swirl of stuff. It'd be easy for a daughter and her dad, in all the racing around and the people to greet, to slip away from one another at the end of the day without really looking one another in the eyes. Remembering. But having that dance, insisted on by the DJ, brings those two together. No wedding coordinators asking questions of the bride, no friends from work trying tell a joke to the dad: just the two of them. Holding onto one another. Moving to the music of that old Beatles' song. Looking one another over. Thinking. Remembering. Getting ready for some kind of new distance between them. Thanking. Forgiving the other for the occasional rough spot. Blessing. They may not say it but there is an unspoken blessing between them.
Someone before us thought about this, and so we have the dance. So there is this ritual.
Leviticus 7 goes into great detail about how the people are to remember God's goodness and offer their sacrifices (explaining the kind of sacrifice required and in what order it is to be given). Life among early Jesus followers is described in Acts 2:43-ff. They attended the temple together, broke bread (whether a communion meal or just sandwiches from Subway), and told one another about the good stuff God was doing in their lives and communities. Participated in a time of praise. There was a pattern.
We say we want new. And new can be such a good thing. But sometimes we seem to exhaust ourselves coming up with the next, cool thing.
Isn't it nice to know what's coming at a wedding party? Isn't it nice not having to re-invent it all every time we're together? Isn't it nice that I can lean back and watch my friend dance with his daughter, and remember when she much younger...and think about the way ahead?