The Covenant Way: a Wedding Service Built on Promises

I wrote this service for a couple I married several years ago. Recently a colleague found it useful for a wedding he did, and now friends of that couple have asked for copies, so perhaps others will find this helpful too.

Declaration of Intent

I. The Way of Creation/Re-creation

The First Lesson: Genesis 2:18-25

Affirmation of the Families

The First Promise
Here at last is bone of my bones,
flesh of my flesh,
divine help, in a form I understand.
You are the image of God for me.
God speaks to me in your voice.
God looks at me through your eyes.
God touches me with your hands.
And, in my love for you,
I too may reflect God.

II. The Way of Surrender/Denial

The Second Lesson: Ephesians 5:21-33

The Nature of Marriage

The Second Promise:
I take you today to be my husband/wife,
to have and to hold from this day forward,
for better or for worse,
for richer or poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish
until death parts us.
Nothing else will have the power,
for today I turn away from all other options.
Forsaking all others,
I commit myself to you.
I will seek to serve you
with tenderness and respect,
energy and intelligence,
imagination and love.

III. The Way of Renewal/Resurrection

The Third Lesson: Matthew 12:46-50

Affirmation of the Community of Faith

Prayers of the People
(concluding with the Lord’s Prayer)

The Third Promise
I take you to be my brother/sister in Christ,
for this life and for the next.
Let our love be lived within the community of his church,
and our home be embraced by the household of faith.
However much our love for one another deepens,
I promise to love God even more than I love you.
I ask you to love God even more than you love me,
that our growing love for him
will draw us closer to one another.

IV. The Way of Service/The Spirit

The Fourth Lesson: Romans 12

The Fourth Promise
I take you to be my partner in Christ’s service.
I will help you develop God’s gifts in you
and work with you for the coming of the kingdom of God.
I will listen with you for God’s call on our lives,
that our home may be a place where the good news is proclaimed,
where justice and mercy are lived,
where God’s children are welcomed,
and where God’s name is honored.
May our marriage give God joy!

The Exchange of Rings
I give you this ring as a sign of these promises.

Declaration of Marriage

Benediction

Excerpt
A Word to Those Planning a Wedding

No music suggestions are offered here, but you may find the following guidelines helpful. The music you choose must be appropriate for a service of Christian worship. If you have in mind some popular songs that have been meaningful to you during your courtship, it might be appropriate to play those during your reception, but not during the ceremony itself. All music for the service should be approved by the officiating pastor.

Music can be added during as many of the four sections of the service as desired, and certainly should be there at the beginning and the end. I strongly suggest that the processional be an appropriate hymn, such as “O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High” in which the focus is on the love Christ has for us. This is the context within which a Christian wedding celebrates your love for one another, and recognizing that is a fitting to begin the ceremony. Other appropriate hymns to include in the service include “When Love Is Found” and “God of Love and Joy and Laughter,” as well as any hymns that have been particularly significant to either one of you individually or to both of you as a couple.

Some people find a unity candle to be a meaningful symbol. If you choose to include it in your wedding, it should be after the second vow is spoken.

—Laura Smit

Note: For other wedding resources, see RW 56 (June 2000), a theme issue on weddings, as well as many resources on our website: www.reformedworship.org.

A Promise Made—the Groundwork of Marriage

Marriage begins when two people make the clear, unqualified promise to be faithful, each to the other, until the end of their days. That spoken promise makes the difference. A new relationship is initiated. Marriage begins when each vows to commit herself, himself, unto the other and to no other human in this world: “I promise you my faithfulness, until death parts us.” That vow, once spoken, once heard, permits a new, enduring trust: each one may trust the vow of the other one. And that vow forms the foundation of the relationship to be built upon it hereafter.

A promise made, a promise witnessed, a promise heard, remembered, trusted—this is the groundwork of marriage. Not emotions. No, not even love. Not physical desires or personal needs or sexuality. Not the practical fact of living together. Not even the piercing foresight or some peculiar miracle of All-seeing God. Rather, a promise, a vow, makes the marriage.

“I promise you my faithfulness, until death parts us.”

Here is a marvelous work, performed by those who are made in the image of God—for we create, in this promise, a new thing, a changeless stability in an ever-changing world. We do the thing that God does, establishing a covenant with another human being: we ask faith in our faithfulness to that covenant. We transfigure the relationship thereafter, transfiguring ourselves, for we shape our behaviors by the covenant. A new ethic has begun for each of us. We have called forth a spiritual house in which each of us may dwell securely. Whether we know it or not, it is a divine thing we do, and it is holy.

—Walter Wangerin, Jr. As for Me and My House,
Thomas Nelson Publishers, © 1987. Used by permission.

Laura Smit is a faculty member in the religion department at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA).