Vows and Grace

Last weekend, I had the privilege of performing the wedding ceremony for my niece, Liz. Technically, Liz is Carol’s sister’s daughter, but Carol and I were married by the time Liz was born so I claim her as my own.

It was a beautiful wedding and part of my responsibility was to lead Liz and her new husband, Ben, in taking their vows. These were the same vows that Carol and I took more than 43 years ago, the same vows Liz’s parents took and are the same vows that millions of other married couples have taken for centuries. They are those time honored words…

“I _____ take you ____ to be my wedded wife/husband, to have and to hold from this day forward; for better for worse; for richer for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish; til death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”

Sometimes I meet couples who want to change the words. They want to write their own vows. I understand why they want to do it. As they stand in front of family and friends, they want to say words that come from their hearts and not simply repeat what was written centuries ago.

I remember when Carol and I were about to get married I suggested to the pastor who was performing our wedding ceremony, the idea of writing personal vows. I will never forget his response. He replied, “How can you say it any better than the way it is already written?” And then he took us through the meaning of the vows.
He talked about what it meant to take another person to be a part of your very being. He spoke of what it meant to hold that person in good times and in bad, times when you had plenty and other times when there would be little; when both where healthy or when one was in physical distress. He unraveled the meaning of the words, “love” and “cherish” and reminded us that would involve things like making time for each other, forgiving each other, encouraging each other and holding each other. He spoke of what it meant to pledge your faith to another person.

After going through all of these, he reminded us that ultimately this was not simply our wedding. In fact we would not even play the chief role in the service. Ultimately, this was about God and His blessing of our marriage.

By the time he finished, Carol and I were hooked and never again questioned the vows. In fact, personally as a minister I’m pretty flexible when it comes to working with couples about their wedding plans, but there is one part of the ceremony I will not compromise and that has to do with the vows.

Last weekend as Ben and Liz stood in front of me reciting their vows, their eyes bright with joy and hope for the future, I was reminded of a couple of things. I was reminded that vows matter. Whether it’s your marriage vows, the vows you take when you join the church or a promise you make to a friend—keeping the vows you make matters. Relationships rise and fall on those promises. Churches are made stronger or weaker by how we treat the covenants we make when we stand in front of the congregation and join their fellowship. You build or chip away at your character depending on whether you live up to the commitments you make.

I was also reminded of the power of God’s grace. Even as Ben and Liz repeated these promises to one another, I knew the future would hold moments of struggle for them. I have no idea what the struggles will be, but I have been around long enough to know that even the best marriages go through challenging times. But I also know it is then that God’s grace has the power to heal, restore and even strengthen those that put Christ at the center of their relationship.

So I wish Liz and Ben the best. But mostly I pray they will stay close to Christ and close to each other. May that also be true for all of us!