Before we were married, the minister who officiated at our wedding sat down with us and explained the significance of several wedding ceremony traditions associated with the Old Testament blood covenant. As a couple, this knowledge deepened our appreciation for each wedding tradition, intensified the experience of worship in our wedding ceremony, and gave us a clearer understanding of our physical and spiritual union.
Easton's Bible Dictionary explains that the Hebrew word for covenant is berith, which comes from the root meaning "to cut." A blood covenant was a formal, solemn, and binding agreement—a vow or pledge—between two parties made by "cutting" or dividing of animals into two parts. As we look further into the details of a covenant, we'll consider the significance of various wedding traditions.
Covenant Symbols in Christian Wedding Traditions and Customs
In Genesis 15:9-10, the blood covenant began with the sacrifice of animals. After splitting them precisely in half, the animal halves were arranged opposite each other on the ground, leaving a pathway between them. The two parties making the covenant would walk from either end of the path, meeting in the middle.
The meeting ground between the animal pieces was regarded as holy ground. There the two individuals would cut the palms of their right hands and then join these hands together as they mutually pledged a vow, promising all of their rights, possessions, and benefits to the other. Next, the two would exchange their belt and outer coat, and in so doing, take some part of the other person's name.
Now we'll begin to observe some of the covenant symbols in Christian wedding traditions:
Seating of the Family on Opposite Sides of the ChurchFamily and friends of the bride and groom are seated on opposite sides of the church to symbolize the cutting of the blood covenant. These witnesses—the family, friends, and invited guests—are all participants in the wedding covenant, and many of them have made sacrifices to help prepare the couple for marriage and to support them in their holy union.
Center Aisle and White RunnerThe center aisle represents the meeting ground, or the pathway between the animal pieces where the blood covenant is established. The white runner symbolizes holy ground where two lives are joined as one by God. (Exodus 3:5, Matthew 19:6)
Seating of the ParentsIn Bible times, the parents of the bride and groom were ultimately responsible for discerning God's will concerning the choice of a spouse for their children. The wedding tradition of seating the parents in a place of prominence is meant to recognize their responsibility for the couple's union.
Groom Enters FirstEphesians 5:23-32 reveals that earthly marriages are a picture of the church's union with Christ. God initiated the relationship through Christ, who called and came for his bride, the church. Christ is the Groom, who established the blood covenant first initiated by God. For this reason, the groom enters the church auditorium first.
Father Escorts and Gives Away the BrideIn Jewish tradition, it was the father's duty to present his daughter in marriage as a pure virgin bride. As parents, the father and his wife also took responsibility for endorsing their daughter's choice in a husband. By escorting her down the aisle, a father says, "I have done my very best to present you, my daughter, as a pure bride. I approve of this man as your choice for a husband, and now I bring you to him." When the ministers asks, "Who gives this woman?," the father responds, "Her mother and I." This giving away of the bride, demonstrates the parent's blessing on the union and the transfer of care and responsibility to the husband.
White Wedding Dress
The white wedding dress has a two-fold significance. It is a symbol of the wife's purity in heart and life, and in reverence to God. It's also a picture of the righteousness of Christ described in Revelation 19:7-8. Christ clothes his bride, the church, in his own righteousness as a garment of "fine linen, bright and clean."
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