Too often people get married with a demolition permit in their back pockets, and for some reason it doesn’t dawn on them that their children will be in the home when it comes crashing down. It was never meant to be that way.
Christians and other people of faith believe that marriage was God’s idea, and that he intended it to last. Because that’s true, marriage has always been envisioned as a covenant – the strongest of agreements into which two parties could enter.
Covenant haunts the wedding ceremony the way King Hamlet’s ghost haunts Elsinore Castle – though of course some people don’t believe in it any more than they believe in ghosts. Yet the spirit of covenant materializes at one spot in the wedding ceremony, disappears, and then shows up in another. If you know what you’re looking for, you’ll see covenant repeatedly at any traditional wedding.
What is covenant? It is an ancient practice in which two parties – they could be individuals, groups or nations – enter into a do-or-die agreement with each other.
Where is covenant? It’s everywhere in the wedding ceremony. It appears first in the guests, who are present “to witness and bless the joining of this man and this woman in holy matrimony.” To “witness” is covenantal language. Guests serve as covenant witnesses.
When the officiant says, “Now that this man and this woman have given themselves to each other by solemn vows, with the joining of hands, and the giving and receiving of rings…” he or she is using covenant language to describe the components of covenant.
The joining of hands is a covenant act. When couples take their vows, it is customary for them to take right hands. Taking right hands – the handshake – comes out of covenant ceremony. People used to say, “We shook hands on it; that’s enough for me.” They understood the power of covenant.