It is a privilege to see a man and woman stand together to make life-shaping promises to last a lifetime.
What is at the core of this solemn wedding event? It is not the minister’s sermon, the special setting, the music chosen, or even the wedding couple’s attire. It is the vows they declare to each other before God, in the presence of witnesses.
Contemporary couples have access to a variety of wedding rituals. Some are rich in history, some quite modern. Some are creations of the bride and groom themselves, and some may even be borrowed from bridal magazines.
For comparison, here’s a look at the seven vows of the historic wedding service in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. They were first published in the Prayer Book in 1562, and they remain in use, having survived 500 years of testing. They cover timeless issues forthrightly and do so with an economy of words.
1. I take you to be my wife/husband
First there is the public declaration of intention.
2. To have and to hold from this day forward…
This vow alludes to the physical intimacy their wedded life will make honorable; with God’s blessing, “they two shall be one flesh.”
3. For better, for worse
This vow pledges that no matter what surprises come to brighten or test their union they will be careful to honor their vows and affirm their bond.
4. For richer, for poorer
By this vow the two promise to stand solidly together whether their marriage is blessed with ample material resources or burdened by the limitations of poverty. Committed marriages can survive either circumstance.
5. In sickness and in health
Few marriages are shielded from the attack of health setbacks during a lifetime together, some being life-threatening and others shorter and less ominous. In this part of the vows the couple pledges loyalty to each other no matter the personal cost.
6. To love and to cherish
These gentle words call for attention to the tender side of the relationship — the unexpected embraces, the words of admiration, the notes on the pillow. Such attention should spring forth often in gentle and loving ways — a big factor in the development of a healthy, fulfilling marriage.
7. Till death do us part
The mention of death may seem out of place where every part of the event sparkles with energy and life. However, this vow enfolds and enriches the marriage with an element of human realism.
To conclude and seal the vows each partner must declare, “In the presence of God I make these vows.”
This portion of the wedding ends with the minister’s declaration that the seven vows are consistent with God’s holy law (Genesis 1:27; Romans 7:1-3). The Scriptures undergird the vows as authentic.
The minister then introduces the couple as husband and wife, and the congregation typically expresses its joy. By these seven vows their lives are changed forever!
Our morally confused world may respond to such elevated pledges with cynicism. They may say no one can keep such vows.
It is true that they will need God’s grace and have many occasions to reaffirm their love and to seek or give forgiveness. The stronger the commitment to their vows made at the altar, the more fulfilling the marriage. And the stronger the blessing they will bring to the next generation of their own family — and to society at large.
Image credit: Charles Thompson (via flickr.com)