Here are a few thoughts ruminating in my mind as I prepare to officiate at my son and his fiance’s wedding and Dawn and I soon mark 35 years of marriage.
Simple vows are being stated; their beauty yet to be seen.
A vow is a solemn oath. A pledge, a promise, a covenant. Marriage vows are not fancy words, flowery words. They do not draw immediate attention to themselves. Neither are they riddles, words of sly nuance or sophisticated definition. They are simple words. They are a simple pledge, a simple covenant. I, take you… For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer… till death do us part.
And herein is their weight, their significance: They speak to the future. Their beauty is yet to bloom. When Dawn and I were married in 1980 we wrote our own vows (fortunately our pastor fathers who together conducted the service, had the sense to have us also state traditional vows). At 20 and 19, under the spell of hormones and self-determined uniqueness, we made promises that would make a politician blush. Thirty-five years later, we not only can’t remember what we said, we’re grateful to have lost them. The beauty of wedding vows doesn’t show up in adjectives and adverbs spoken in a moment. Nor do they flower in the finery of the ceremony. A husband and wife carrying out their yes as yes and their no as no in a million little, grace-dependent ways-- till death do them part -- is where their beauty will be seen.
Our vows reflect God’s decrees; for there is great mystery
Marriage exists because God has decreed it to be. We are not following cleverly devised tales or practicing baseless traditions when a ceremony is held to unite a man with a woman. A father ‘brings’ his daughter to her husband just like God brought the woman to the man. When asked, the father of the bride says it is ‘her mother and I’ – the ones who created her -- who are ‘giving her to this man,’ just as God fashioned the woman for the man and gave her to him. With intentional, unmistakable clarity God blessed and created humans male and female so they would be fruitful and multiply. Therefore, the man says to the woman, ‘I, take you,’ because she is suitable to him to be fruitful. Likewise, she ‘takes him’ so they together may multiply. By God’s decree and design, the man knows she is for him; the woman knows he is for her: She is bone of his bones, flesh of his flesh. So it is according to the decree of God and the blessing of God they are pronounced “Mr. and Mrs.’ They shall become one flesh.
Our rebellion, our disenchantment, our tainted and warped desires are no indication God has changed His mind about marriage. Our messy, our miserable, our failed, our redefined – ours will not negate what God established for His purposes. What Christ said about marriage only heightens the clarity of what God declared from the beginning (Matthew 19; Mark 10). Adam Clarke said it well decades ago: “Christ will never accommodate his morality to the times, nor to the inclinations of men. What was done at the beginning is what God judged most worthy of his glory, most profitable for man, and most suitable to nature.”
The reason is for a mystery and it is great. The mystery is this: From the beginning God designed marriage between a man and a woman to be a picture of the relationship between Christ and His bride, the church (Eph 5:22-32).
Let that sink in.
God didn’t design the relationship between Christ and His bride around marriage; rather, before the foundation of the world He designed marriage to be a picture of Christ and His bride. That’s why God cannot alter marriage. It was designed to point to Christ and His blood-shedding, wrath receiving God-glorifying, covenant keeping love for His bride.
In less than a month, Dawn and I will observe 35 years of marriage. Youthful attraction and idealism have had their day. Romance is burnished by reality of aging bodies and one too many pieces of cheese cake. Delight is more learned -- flowing from a thousand gazes, a thousand touches, from a million words of kindness, and a million more silent decisions to forgive. Ecstatic memories are intermingled with groans of regret as our days together fly away. Grace, God’s grace, secured for us in Christ’s work on the cross, is far more sweet and significant. Far more known, really known, as necessary. Always.
So this brings us back to those simple vows. Ultimately, marriage isn’t about sexual pleasure, companionship or even bearing children. Those are all good, God-ordained gifts that come with the sacred union of marriage. But they aren’t ultimate. Ultimately, it’s about keeping covenant. It’s about us being a picture, albeit imperfectly, feebly, that tells of the unwavering allegiance Christ has for His bride.
I, take you… For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer… till death do us part.