Thursday, March 24, 2016

Renewing the Covenant

Wednesday evening, I officiated Jenna and Mike’s vow renewal ceremony at the Hyatt Place Dallas/Garland/Richardson, in Garland, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

There is not much in the research literature about vow renewals. Though the eternal source of all great wisdom, Wikipedia, contends that this custom has some roots in Italy, it admits that this is a largely modern and largely American phenomenon, not that there is anything wrong with that.

Interestingly, though, the Hebrew Bible actually tells a fascinating story, which can be understood through this modern ritual, that Jenna and Mike celebrate today. In the final chapter of the Book of Joshua, this mythical successor of Moses gathers all of the people. He reviews their history, from the days of Abraham, through the slavery and exodus from Egypt, to the battles he himself led to settle the Land of Israel.

Then Joshua says, “Now, therefore, revere the Lord, and serve him with undivided loyalty… Or, if you are loath to… serve the Lord, choose (who)… you are going to serve…” So, despite their long history together, despite their ongoing relationship, Joshua says that they must make a covenant with God. Here is what they answer, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord… He is our God… We will serve none, but the Lord.” And then scripture tells us, “On that day… Joshua made a covenant for the people.” Now, if you know the Bible story up until that point, this might seem a little odd. What on earth is Joshua doing here? Hadn’t the people already made a covenant with God, at the time of Moses? Why this seemingly superfluous repetition?
However, if we think about the marital relationship, and many scriptures allude to the relationship of the God of Israel and his people, as analogous to a marital relationship, it makes total sense. You see, not to rain on any romantic party, but let’s face it, at best, committing to someone in marriage is an educated guess. Why do I say that? Well, because the “I” of today is not the “I” of ten years from now, and the “You” of today are not the “You” of ten years from now. So, when we marry, not just for today, but for tomorrow, the day after, ten years later, and hopefully many more, what are we saying? We are saying that we know each other well enough, and that our love is strong enough, that we know that the “We” of tomorrow, will be as committed and as in love as the “We” of today.

Now, again, fairy tales are lovely, but if you know anything about marriage, especially one with four great kids, all under the age of ten, that fairy tale can be hard work! And so, the fact that the “We” of yesterday committed to each other, carries heavy weight, but it is not enough. Consciously and unconsciously, you must make an affirmative decision, like Jenna and Mike do, to keep investing in that wonderful endeavor we call marriage and family. And, if you know Jenna and Mike, you see that love and determination, with which they make that affirmative decision, not just today, but every day.

Don’t take my word for it. Listen to what they wrote about their love story, “We are honestly like two peas in an odd pod. We are almost complete opposites on almost every topic. However on all the important things we are exactly on the same page. We choose to stay married because we have a strong sense of family and love. We both love each other for our flaws and for our greatness. We build each other up everyday.”  

Through what Jenna and Mike do today, we gain understanding of Joshua’s actions too. Joshua recognizes that the historical covenant is important, but not sufficient. He, therefore, calls the people, not to make a covenant, but to renew their covenant with their heritage and with their historical traditions; traditions which Jenna and Mike embrace in their lives, and embrace in today’s ceremony too. 

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