The View From Our VenueHere are the wedding vows that we used for our ceremony, as well as the sermon that my friend Katie Langston preached when she married us. Katie and I met online almost 10 years ago when I was mostly blogging about Mormonism, where she was one of the Mormon commentators on my blog. She is now a divinity candidate at Luther Seminary, preparing to serve as a pastor for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The vows came in part from the egalitarian wedding vows available at The Junia Project. I suggested the quotes from John Wesley and Christine Caine, while Katie crafted the sermon on Song of Songs 8:6-7. (My immediate response when Katie asked me if she could preach on SoS 8:6-7 at my wedding was, “Why? What’s wrong with verse 8?”)

The GrottoI thank Katie again for flying out to my wedding and putting together this beautiful sermon on such short notice.

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Welcome and Prayer

Officiant to audience: On behalf of the Jeffries and L. families, welcome to this celebration of marriage of Bridget and V. Join me in prayer as we ask God to bless this union.

Gracious God, we give you thanks for Bridget and V., for their love and commitment to one another, and for their desire to enter into the covenant of marriage.

Bless them with love, patience, and joy. May we, their friends and family, support them and encourage them, in good times and bad, all through their lives.

God, we know that human love grows out of the love that you have for us. We praise you for your goodness. Bless this union and our celebration today in the eternal love that you are as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Following the welcome, the officiant, bride, and groom move to the platform.

Declaration of Intent

Officiant: “John Wesley asked a profound question of both single and married people: ‘In which of these states’ – speaking of either singleness or marriage – ‘can I do the most good?’

We’re here because Bridget and V. have discerned that they can do more good together than apart.

Marriage means sharing one life where once there were two. This doesn’t mean that you lose your individuality, for that is what brought you together in the first place. A marriage that lasts is one in which each person is developing as an individual while growing in understanding of the other.

Bridget and V., it is not this ceremony that will truly join and hold you together, but the grace of God. And by God’s grace, may you be empowered to be faithful to the covenants you make today, and grow in your ongoing commitment to your relationship, to the Lord, and to the life you wish to make together. In this way, your marriage is not just a word; it is an action, something you work to do every day.

Since it is your intention to enter into marriage, do you come here freely today and without reservation to commit yourselves to each other in marriage? If so say ‘WE DO’.”

Bride and Groom: “We do.”

Officiant: “Will you be respectful and value one another as your equal, be open, kind and patient, trust and have faith in one another, and be worthy of that trust? If so say ‘WE WILL’.”

Bride and Groom: “We will.”

Officiant: “Marriage is an ongoing dialogue, a series of discussions that will help you find your way together. Will you listen and communicate with each other fully, and without fear? If so say ‘WE WILL’.”

Bride and Groom: “We will.

Officiant: “Every marriage requires a leap of faith. Will you work, even when the work is hard, to honor your vows? If so say ‘WE WILL’.”

Bride and Groom: “We will.”

Harley & ConstantineOfficiant: “This ceremony marks not only the union of Bridget and V. as husband and wife, it also celebrates their joining together with Harley and Constantine to form a new family. Will you support Harley and Constantine, guide them, be patient with them, give them room to grow, and love them with all that you have and are? If so say ‘WE WILL’.”

Bride and Groom: “We will.”

Officiant: “And as your life unfolds before you, will you remain true to the promises you make this day? If so say ‘WE WILL’.”

Bride and Groom: “We will.”

Scripture Reading/Charge to Bride and Groom

A reading from the Song of Songs, the 8th chapter.

Set me as a seal upon your heart,
As a seal upon your arm;
For love is strong as death,
Passion fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
A raging flame.
Many waters cannot quench love,
Neither can floods drown it.
If one offered for love
All the wealth of one’s house,
It would be utterly scorned.

No one wants a long sermon at a wedding, so I’ll keep this brief and we can get on to the good stuff.

Wedding SermonThere have been debates for centuries over what on earth the Song of Songs is doing in the Bible. With its abundance of sensual imagery, many contemporary scholars argue that the Song of Songs was a secular love poem that was theologized by mistake. And while part of me would find it hilariously delightful to discover that some random ancient erotica accidentally snuck its way into the Bible, if you think of it that way, you have to ignore what has been the dominant interpretation for centuries: that this isn’t just poetry about a love affair between a man and a woman, but poetry about a love affair between God’s people and God.

And perhaps more importantly, if you bracket it off because it’s sensual, because it speaks of bodies and desire and delight, then you remove God from the world that actually exists: a physical world in physical space, where love is expressed most intimately in a physical way. To deny that God could have anything to do with anything like that is to keep God distant and abstract, floating out there, an ideal, perhaps, but disconnected from the gritty, earthy, embodied experience that defines our lives.

You can hear it clearly in the poem we read today:

Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm;
for love is strong as death,
passion fierce as the grave.

You see, for all its savoring of love’s pleasures, the Song of Songs is profoundly realistic. There are poems where the woman is separated from her lover and is desperate to find him. There are near-misses, where they almost connect, like the most agonizing romantic movie you’ve ever seen, and then he vanishes into the night.

And most profoundly, in this passage, the Song raises the all too real question that we all keep in the back of our minds, but try to avoid thinking about as much as possible.

Can love really last forever? Or does it have an enemy—death?

For there is love and there is death, and they are bitter rivals. We all know that. Because we love with our presence. We love with our words and actions. We love with our bodies. Together. And when death comes, as it comes for us all, and we’re separated from our beloved, what becomes of our love?

The Song makes a claim that we all know to be impossible.

Love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave.

Unless—

Unless the Song of Songs isn’t just about human love.

Because human love gives way to death. It’s the way of things.

But God’s love—

God’s love defeats death.

For God is a lover, whose love is so passionate, so fertile, it can’t help but spill over and create all that exists.

And God’s love for humanity is so fervent, so faithful, that God is willing to make and keep promises with those who least deserve it: liars like Abraham, fraudsters like Jacob and Rebekah, murderers like Moses, adulterers like David—and sinners like us.

And God’s love is so reckless, so foolish, that in order to move ever closer to us, the creator of heaven and earth slipped into human skin as a helpless babe in arms, lived as a homeless itinerant preacher, reached out to the most marginalized, and died on an implement of imperial torture because his way of love was too radical for the political powers to abide.

And God’s love is so full of life that nothing can keep it buried—so on the third day, love rose from the grave, and in so doing, declared victory over death and banished its power forever.

LoveSo now, Bridget and V., you don’t have to fear death, because it is swallowed up in God’s love.

Now you can love freely, passionately, recklessly, foolishly, as God has loved you.

Now you can live into a life of ministry and service, for because you belong to God, you can give yourselves to one another and your Christian vocations more fully. As Christine Caine described her own marriage: “God did not give me the baton of marriage to drop the baton of ministry; he gave me my husband to help carry the baton of ministry. God gave me the gift of the most determined, committed, selfless, unstoppable man I’ve ever met. A man so secure in his identity in Jesus Christ and his calling that he could break through the unseen, unrealized walls of my heart and take me deeper into the power of love than I had ever imagined possible.”

May your union be blessed to be a living witness of God’s enduring, passionate love for the world. Amen.

Exchange of Vows

Officiant: “We come now to the sacred moment when you make your vows of love and faithfulness to each other. Vows are never to be taken lightly, especially when they are made before God in the company of others.

They are life anchors that hold us steady in the storms of life. If you are sincere in the words you say to each other, and if you will remember them as long as you live, they will guide you in seasons of difficulty and distress.”

Have the bride hand off her bouquet. Instruct the couple to take hands and repeat the vows as they are read.

Officiant (repeated by Groom):
“I, V., take you, Bridget, To be my wife.
To love and respect from this day forward,
For better, for worse; for richer, for poorer,
In sickness and in health,
To honor and to cherish, until we are parted by death.
I promise to be open and honest, and to be faithful to you,
So that together we may grow in the likeness of Christ.
This is my solemn vow.”

VowsOfficiant (repeated by Bride):
“I, Bridget, take you, V., To be my husband.
To love and respect from this day forward,
For better, for worse; for richer, for poorer,
In sickness and in health,
To honor and to cherish, until we are parted by death.
I promise to be open and honest, and to be faithful to you,
So that together we may grow in the likeness of Christ.
This is my solemn vow.”

Exchange of Rings

Officiant: “May I have the rings you intend to give each other? These rings are tokens of your love and faithfulness from this day forward. Just as the circle of this ring is unbroken, so it is that your love should be unbroken.”

Rings“The wedding ring is an outward sign of faithfulness. It represents the union of Bridget and V. in marriage, but more importantly, it signifies the grace which exists in every marital relationship. May those who give them and those who wear them be reminded of the sacred vows they represent.”

Prayer for the Exchange of the Rings

Officiant: “Bless these rings, Lord, that Bridget and V. may abide in your favor all of the days of their lives. Remind them, Jesus, of your great love for us and the covenant you have made with your people. May the covenant made here this day be kept holy, sacred, and unbroken. Guide them into a deeper relationship with one another, and with you as their Lord and Savior, may they be faithful as you are faithful, even unto death. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

The Officiant instructs the bride to place the ring on the ring finger of the groom’s left hand and repeat (either the bride or the groom can start):

Officiant (repeated by Bride):
“I give you this ring as a symbol of my vow and my abiding love,
And with all that I am, and with all that I have, I honor you.”

The Officiant instructs the groom to place the ring on the ring finger of the bride’s left hand and repeat after you:

Officiant (repeated by Groom):
“I give you this ring as a symbol of my vow and my abiding love.
And with all that I am, and with all that I have, I honor you.”

Declaration and Pronouncement

Officiant: “You have joined in this act of mutual profession of your love and desire to live as husband and wife, through solemn vows and through the giving and receiving of rings. You have promised before God and this congregation to love and cherish each other from this day forward for the rest of your lives.”

“As one who proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ, I now pronounce you husband and wife in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

First Kiss

Officiant: V. and Bridget, you may now take your first kiss as husband and wife.

Presentation

It gives me great pleasure to introduce the newlyweds, Bridget Jeffries and V. L.!

Mr. L & Ms. Jeffries

Bride & Groom

New Family

Cake w/ Family Topper

 

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