I officiated recently at a wedding for a couple in the congregation I serve. Every wedding is a source of joy, but this one made me particularly happy. The couple is older than most newlyweds and experienced enough in life to truly and deeply appreciate how precious their relationship is. I could see how they knew that this simple ceremony marked a moment of redemption from the past – and promise for the future.
I think this is why people like weddings so much. Each wedding has a bit of an “other-worldly” quality. Watching two people come together, we believe in the possibility of new beginnings. We believe that the mistakes of the past can be erased, and that people can restore all of their original hopes unblemished. We see in each wedding the possibility of a world remade as it was intended to be made from the first.
The imagery of the Jewish wedding ceremony is built around this theme. The blessings that conclude a Jewish wedding turn the flesh-and-blood wedding partners into metaphors for the world's creation and its fulfillment. The sixth of the traditional Seven Blessing declares: "Gladden these loving companions, as was Your joy in Your creations in the Garden of Eden of old. Blessed are You, Adonai, who brings joy to marriage partners. Blessed are You, Adonai, who brings joy to the marriage partners." With a bit of poetry, we transform the couple into the first lovers who embraced each other without a clue about the harsh and frustrating realities of building a marriage for the long-term. We see the couple instead as perfect, immersed in a love that can wash away all difficulties.
And then, as suddenly as we placed in the couple in the Garden of Eden at the start of the world, we then take them to the other end of reality. The seventh wedding blessing sees the couple as harbingers of the world's final fulfillment:
"Blessed are You, Adonai our God, ruler of eternity, who created rejoicing and joy, celebration, song, dance and merriment, love and friendship, peace and companionship. Quickly, Adonai our God, may the sound of rejoicing and joy, the sound of the celebrants, be heard in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem, the sound of happiness of the married couple from their canopy and of the youths from their joyous feasts. Blessed are You, Adonai, who makes the wedding celebrants rejoice with each other."
Even though we know that life is difficult and building a happy marriage is hard work—despite all that—we are ready to hear a voice at each wedding that announces the redemption of the world. We are ready to have our pessimism proved wrong. We are ready to see in that couple—the ones with the eyes brightly shining at each other—a reminder that there are moments in life when all the pain, difficulty, and frustration is wiped away. We find redemption in the couple's joy as we remember that life is sweet when we live it deeply caring for one another.
The couple I recently married are wise enough and experienced enough to realize that there is an even deeper joy than the one imagined by the happily-ever-after-cliché of fairytales.
Better than any fairytale is this truth about life: We are made for each other. We discover ourselves only when we experience life as part of a larger whole. As marriage partners, we become timeless. Our individual stories are merged into the one great story that spans from creation to redemption. We become, in that moment, the radiant beings we were always meant to be.