One of the first things Miranda and I discussed after our engagement was wedding vows. She said, "You're going to want to write your own, aren't you?" The question seemed almost rhetorical, but I responded anyways, "Yes, is it okay with you if we personalize our vows?" I think she was torn between the added pressure of writing/giving her own vow and the joy of working on a vow with me that intimately represents the oath we intend before God.
A few months ago, I was supposed to get an idea about what I thought the vow should look like because I had always imagined giving my own. I have always wanted a vow that emphasizes the covenental structure of God's kingdom and marriage. That proved tougher than I imagined. I read through over 50 and found few that resonated within my soul. I gave up hope and put it off.
Miranda brought it back to the table earlier this week. We decided we'd do them together. When we sat down tonight, the first thing we did was look at 20 different tips for writing vows. Neither of us were satisfied with them, and I was once again at a loss. Luckily, Miranda recommended we look up more sample "Christian Wedding Vows". As we read through them, we pointed out the elements we liked in each. We wrote them down so we could assemble the best attributes into our own. I was on the verge of contentment--even though none of them spoke of a covenant--when I found one that turned my contentment into jubilation. As I was reading it Miranda said, "That's so long, but it sounds exactly like you." She was right, I was almost brought to tears.
I hadn't even mentioned my desire for explicit covenant references to her, but it was the first one she thought sounded like me. She asked why the vow was so meaningful to me. I explained that it had the covenental element I had always wanted. Before we began to edit and alter the vow to fit me/us, I took her here to help explain what a covenant really is.
Marriage is a covenant. Although we use the words "covenant" and "contract" almost interchangeably in English, the biblical roots in Hebrew and Greek are very different. Scott Hahn describes the difference, "we could almost say that it's the difference between prostitution (contract) and marriage (covenant). Or between owning a slave (contract) and having a son (covenant.)" You give property in a contract, and oneself in a covenant.
As law school has taught me, a contract generally involves an exchange of promises that may be voided due to impossibility to perform or substantial changes in the surrounding circumstances. A covenant is not the same. It's an oath before God, with disregard for future consequences(for better or worse, in sickness or health). It's an oath that is justified because the institution of marriage is intrinsically good.
The reason the vow nearly brought me to tears was because it reflected Christ's covenental nature on the cross. The gravity of his blood-covenant is awe-inspiring and gut-wrenching. The marital vows are the terms of our covenant. Because we swear them as an oath before God, they really shout, "God, I am swearing by you to uphold these things--and everything you intend marriage to be. If I do not, I ought to be, and I'm willing to be damned." The gravity of that proclamation is awe-inspiring and gut-wrenching.
As we finally set down to write them, I read great insight a fellow blogger gave Here. He points out how early Christians explained why such a covenant was worth the risk. St. John Chrysostom, a Father of the Church, said, "“An intelligent, discreet, and pious young woman is worth more than all the money in the world. Tell her that you love her more than your own life, because this present life is nothing, and that your only hope is that the two of you pass through this life in such a way that, in the world to come, you will be united in perfect love.” How absolutely beautiful. And Tertullian poetically explains an intrinsic benefit to marriage, "Side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations. They have no secrets from one another, they never shun each other’s company; they never bring sorrow to each other’s hearts… Psalms and hymns they sing to one another. Hearing and seeing this, Christ rejoices. To such as these He gives His peace. Where there are two together, there also He is present, and where He is….there evil is not"
It's because of this that I am excited to declare my covenant with Miranda in front of my family and friends.