Today, we stand on the edge of an unknown country and make promises bigger than both of us. To have and to hold. For better or worse. To love and to cherish. Till death do us part.
We stand here today, not mainly to say that we do love each other, but to promise, before God and these dearly beloveds, that we will love each other — whether we tread on high places or stumble through the valley of the shadow. Today we vow to love each other into the unknown.
Promises as big as these cannot rest on the fragile wings of young love, on statistics and probabilities, or on our own fortitude. They can rest only on God. This country, so unknown to us, is not to him. And for every promise we make, he makes one still bigger. To have and to hold. For better or worse. To love and to cherish. Till death do us part.
Here we stand — gazing into an unknown country, hemmed in by the faithfulness of God. And so, we make our promises.
“I take you, to have and to hold”
A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)
Beginning today, our arms are full. We trade our independence to leave and cleave and love. I finally feel the rib I’ve been missing my whole life, and she finally finds her side. Bone of bone. Flesh of flesh. To have and to hold.
As we take each other today, we become stewards of the high mystery: Jesus and his church. “This mystery is profound,” the apostle tells us. “And I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). And so, today, we take each other in a way that glimmers with the greater Romance.
I take her as my crown, my lily, my excellent one. I take her with fire in my eyes and heat in my bones, sparks from the blazing delight that Christ takes in his bride (Isaiah 62:5). I take her completely — her beauty and her scars, her brightness and her shadows. And with Jesus, I will labor for the day when he presents her to himself in splendor, a woman who shines like the sun in the kingdom of God (Ephesians 5:27).
She takes me as her provider, her protector, her head. She gladly submits to a man who is still learning the basic steps of this dance, who sometimes steps on her toes and drops her when she dips. She takes me as only a daughter of Sarah could: fearless in faith, hoping in God, adorned with a beauty that will last longer than the sun (1 Peter 3:3–6).
God has rewritten these roles onto our born-again hearts, and along with them, promises to help us (Isaiah 41:10), uphold us (Psalm 63:8), and patiently teach us how to dance to a song as old as Eden.
“For better or worse”
Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, . . . yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:17–18)
As we stand here today, we do not know what worse, poorer, and sickness might mean. Ten thousand trials could tempt us to bury these vows beneath the ground. When they come, may these four short words rise up to remind us of our promise.
God did not make marriage to display an easy love. He made it to imitate the costliest of all loves — the love that walked through pain, poverty, and sickness to seek and save his bride (Luke 19:10). Marriage, like brotherhood, was born for adversity (Proverbs 17:17).
Today, we renounce the right to have the marriage of our dreams. We refuse to love only in response to loveliness. We forsake every if we could attach to these vows. And instead, we promise to love “though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines” — though no children fill our home, and our bank account be empty; though illness cause our youth to wither, and age erase our memories.
Even if the winter of affliction should turn our love to ice, we will not run to warmer fires. We will sit in the cold, hand in hand, rehearsing the promises of God together. And from that fire, we will find the warmth we need to keep loving one another — for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.
“To love and to cherish”
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. (Ephesians 5:25)
Both husband and wife vow to love and cherish, but God has his eyes on the man especially: “Husbands, love your wives.” Then comes the astonishing comparison: “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” A husband never graduates from the school of Calvary love, where he studies Jesus’s sacrifice and delight, and acts it out before his bride.
The love “vast as the ocean, countless as the stars above” cannot be confined to a wedding day, a honeymoon, or to anniversaries. This is a drama with as many acts as I have years, and as many lines as I have words. And even then, I will have spoken only the first syllables of the play that will enthrall saints and angels for eternity (Revelation 5:9–10).
How will I play the role above all roles? How will I hum the song of the ages? How will I trace the lines of this masterpiece? By giving myself up for her. By dying to every self-protecting impulse, every cowardly word, every desire to use her, and every thought that marriage is mainly for my comfort. And then, by living to the love that seeks her interests, the love that makes her beautiful, the love that reminds her not of the first Adam, but of the second.
The command comes with a promise: when I lay myself down for her, I get myself back with interest. “He who loves his wife loves himself” (Ephesians 5:28). Her welfare is my welfare; her happiness, my happiness. No seed ever dies in the soil of God’s kingdom without bearing fruit a hundredfold.
“Till death do us part”
“What God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mark 10:9)
By God’s grace, the cord we are creating today cannot be cut by the blades of conflict or calamity. Its fibers will hold firm as we learn how to live together, as our house fills with children, as it becomes empty again, as our bodies break down, and as one of us lies on our final bed. In the end, this cord will be cut only by the sword of our last enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26).
But even then, we will not lose what we’ve found today. The best parts of marriage will not end when this curtain closes. We will find them forever on that stage called the New Jerusalem, where the bride has made herself ready, and the love of every husband finds its source in heaven’s Groom (Revelation 19:7). We may not be husband and wife in the new heaven and new earth, but we will be married — and find that our love was always an echo of something better.
But today, my love, I take you, to have and to hold. For better or worse. To love and to cherish. Till death brings us to him.